One of the greatest distractions and necessities of life today is email. I am not telling you anything you don't know already. The question is what to do to somehow manage the tsunami and feel more complete at the end of the day.....whenever that is for you! Paul is in charge of a large media sales team and easily receives 100 (yikes!) yes 100 emails every day. Reading and responding to all of these obviously takes an enormous amount of time and he is finding much that he has to do getting pushed aside. As a result, he is working really late, working more hours than he wants to be working, seeing his family less, losing sleep and always in catch-up mode. He never feels complete because he never is! This makes him more stressed.
Reality is that, when used responsibly and appropriately, email is an incredibly valuable and essential communication tool, so it is incumbent upon each of us individually to find better ways to manage it so it stops managing us. Agree?
Here are 3 of my favorite strategies.
They are my favorites because they have been effective not only for me but for many of my clients. Keep in mind however, that they may not work for everyone so take what you like and leave the rest.
1. Delete first!
When you open your inbox, the first thing to do is delete unnecessary messages without opening them at all. Do this before opening priority mail or anything else. You can usually tell from the subject line as to what it is. The best thing to remember is that moving messages to the trash does not delete them immediately. If you realize later in the day or the next that you need it you can always retrieve it but it is out of your sight. Company policy on this might vary so check it out.
Another great delete strategy I read about is when Jim's inbox gets out of control he sorts by name. That way the email is easily grouped from senders that he knows. If he doesn't need to respond or keep, he can delete many messages at once.
I LOVE my delete folder!
2. Schedule email time wisely and get your best work done
See how it works to schedule time to read and respond to emails after a long period of focused time or at the time of day when your energy and creativity are at their lowest levels. This makes the assumption that you can do higher value work at other times. It is really important to become aware of when you have the most energy and focus. Yes. I know that we are all almost "addicted" to email and the immediate gratification we get from it however it is important to recognize that all of that has serious consequences too so plan accordingly. It is so much better to feel focused, productive and fulfilled than frazzled, overworked and scattered all day.
3. Use the 2-Minute Rule
The 2-minute rule is really simple. If it is going to take you more than 2 minutes to reply to an email or process it, put it into a REPLY folder to do later when you have planned time to work on email. You will actually schedule this time on your calendar. Otherwise reply right away (as David Allen says in his GTD approach).
When it comes to email, why not attempt to use the golden productivity principle of touch it once? Don't reread the same email....especially when you have to deal with dozens or hundreds every day.
Why ? Because you can then go through your inbox really fast and initially process what is really necessary while getting a good idea of what is in there. If someone needs a quick response, take care of it right then. If an email needs more attention, you'll be able to work on it later as we said, once you have taken the time to prioritize when you are going to do it. You then have the relief of knowing that you have processed your inbox thoroughly.
I personally like the 2 minute rule but feel free to adjust to what will work for you based on how much time you want or need to allocate to email management/processing. For example, someone who gets 50 emails a day with a two minute limit could ideally manage his email in about an hour a day....not every email takes 2 minutes. Always good to concretize.
What so many of us do is process emails one by one and sequentially respond to each email as they receive it during the day. This is a very inefficient way of managing it! Why? Because you aren't prioritizing at all.
Let's say you have 45 unread emails in your box. How do you know if email #5 is more urgent or higher priority than email #25? You won't if you spend a lot of time on each. That's why the time limit rule is so smart.
By taking inventory like this, you will soon find what emails you must deal with ASAP and which can wait and this should be very comforting and help you regain a sense of control.
I would love your comments or to learn about great strategies that are working for you these days.
Have a productive week!