How to STOP E-mail from killing your productive day

You wake up with the perfect plan for the perfect day. This is the day you’re going to catch-up & relieve yourself of the terrible stress of coming home each day overwhelmed that you haven’t gotten all of your work done.

Fast-forward to the end of the day; you’re driving home utterly dejected at the thought of yet another day of endless e-mail. Another day in which everything you wanted to get done, everything that was important to YOU, was still left to do as the night sky fell on your day.

Sound familiar? How often do you wish you hadn’t opened up your e-mail? This past Friday, amongst a series of quick tips on productivity, I also wrote about NOT starting your day with e-mail, but rather one significant task that you need to complete.

Let’s face it, after many years of trying, no matter how good you get at providing alternative means for people to communicate, you just can’t seem to get away from the tsunami that e-mail often represents to what should have been a perfectly productive day. What makes it worse, is that you are NOT an innocent bystander. By having consciously chosen to open your e-mail first thing in the morning, you have opened up Pandora’s Box.

And yet again your day will be planned out for you by others, instead of you having minimal control.

The other day I heard a phrase that stated; “you’ll never be promoted for being an excellent e-mail, but you’ll surly be fired for not delivering on required goals”. So why have you become so addicted to e-mail?

Turn push & alerts off – Be purposeful in your activities

If a squeaky wheel is consistently in your ear, you’re going to stop what you’re doing to oil it. Be purposeful & retrieve your e-mails when you’re ready to deal with them, especially until you have built up your new e-mail behavior.

Plan your e-mail breaks

Just like any other part of the day that you want to be in control of, get used to planning your e-mail breaks. That’s right, let’s call them e-mail “breaks”. When you first wake-up, instead of opening your e-mail or checking your Blackberry, kiss the wife, go have a cup of coffee, breakfast, spend time with the kids, & make sure they’re set for their new day.

If you took my previous tip, you reviewed your past day last night & structured the respective new day to be a better one. When you first walk into the office get right down to business & knock-out that first significant task. Today, just for today, schedule yourself no more than 2 x 1 hour breaks to read e-mail.. somewhere around 10am & 4pm.

E-mail as a file folder

And guess what, if in order to access that work-file you need to access your e-mail, then approach your e-mail like a file folder on your hard drive. Go in & extract ONLY what you need, instead of giving-in to the temptation of reading your e-mails.

Filter your e-mail

Apply filters so that e-mail from important people, your boss, clients, etc.. automatically goes into separate folders for you to address when you’re ready. Avoid going into an unstructured general “Inbox”.

Hunt & peck your e-mail

Don’t read your e-mail from top/bottom. Be purposeful & scan the “from” & “subject”. Open ONLY those e-mails that are relevant to the work you’re performing at-the-moment, or things you know you need to address now.

Leave casual reading & other distractions that will take you off in a tangent for the coffee, lunch or evening break.

Action your e-mail

Even if that means re-marking it as “unread” and assigning a task for yourself to complete something more significant. If you can address an e-mail within 1-2 minutes, do it immediately, otherwise trash-it, schedule it for later casual reading or action.

Just try it

I can hear all of the reasons why none of this will work.. I’ve heard them all before.

Can I just ask you to try it for one day? If it seems to work, try it a 2nd day? And if someone gets upset that you took too long to answer their urgent e-mail, was really that urgent? Was it really urgent to YOUR job & deliverables that you had to complete? If so, teach your colleagues to come see you, or ring you when they’ve got something REALLY urgent.

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