Nobody likes email.
There are a million other things that everybody would rather be doing at any given point in the day, but unfortunately, the emails just keep coming. As soon as you get them knocked out and under control, they sneak right back up on you.
Is there any way to stay on top of them? Or are we all just stuck forever as slaves to the email box, sucking productivity time away from the things that we should be doing, and the things that we want to be doing?
Fortunately for us, Rob & Mike at Startups For the Rest of Us have a solution. It works for them, and they’re pretty sure, it can work for the rest of us.
1) Only Check Email 1-2 Times per Day
What? This has to be a typo. 1-2 times a day?
In a world of push notifications, what do you do if your phone isn’t constantly dinging, flashing that little notification badge, beckoning you? What are you missing? What is happening while you’re off doing whatever it is that you’re doing instead of checking email?
The first step is to turn off those push notifications. Shut them down. When your phone isn’t constantly buzzing at you, and your gmail tab isn’t constantly refreshing, you’ll be amazed at what you can accomplish.
If you struggle with self-control, there’s a fantastic chrome extension called INBOX PAUSE that will do just what it says. It pauses all delivery of mail to your inbox. When you click over to your Gmail window, it lets you know that mail delivery is paused, and you have to physically override it to get delivery. Easily done, but a great reminder of what you should be doing instead.
“Found time” is time that you wouldn’t have been productive in the first place. Waiting at the DMV, in line at Costco, waiting on an oil change. Don’t feel guilty about logging in and conquering some emails in these places. This is “found time” and it’s yours to do with what you please (fyi, time with your family is NOT “found time”.)
2) Live by the 3 D’s: Delete it, Delegate it, Do it
When you do set aside the time to get neck deep in that email inbox, how do you organize and deal with the sheer volume?
If you’re not going to bother reading it right now, odds are you’re not going to read it in six hours. Or next week.
Most of us will sign up for email newsletters with the best of intentions, but when they hit our inbox, they just become another thing to get rid of. Delete them. Or better yet, unsubscribe from them and get that clutter off of your plate.
If you know you’re going to receive a follow up in a few days, get rid of it.
Send it to Trello. Get it out of your inbox and on to your to-do list. Don’t touch an email more than once. Once you’ve sent it to Trello, delete it.
If you need to, create a few different Trello lists. One for crucial, time sensitive tasks. One for tasks that need to get done, but can wait a few days. One for tasks that you’d like to eventually get done, but if you’re honest with yourself, probably aren’t going to get done.
You’ll notice a lot of movement between lists B and C.
If a task will take you no more than 5 minutes, do it.
Get your deleted items out of the way, get the delegated items taken care of, then all you’re left with are the items that you can accomplish right then and there.
Approve the expense report, confirm the meeting, and move on with your day.
3) Aspire for “Inbox Zero,” but Realize That it’s Not Always Feasible
We all love the feeling of an empty inbox. Few things are more gratifying than shutting the computer down at 4:45 on Friday afternoon with no emails in the box. It’s nearly euphoric. Inbox Zero is a fantastic place to be, but it’s not always feasible.
Life takes over. The kids have soccer practice. You’re on vacation. You’re in an all day workshop and can’t get to your email. It happens.
4) Use Boomerang & your Calendar Liberally
If you don’t use Boomerang, you should. It’s that good. Boomerang is a Gmail plugin that will let you not only schedule and send your email later, but will take emails that you don’t want to deal with today and “snooze” them until you know you can deal with them.
Say you’re planning an event, and you get an email from the venue asking for information. You know you aren’t going to get that information until Monday. You can either take your time and reply more than once, or you can use Boomerang to snooze that email until Monday when you have the information. It’s that easy.
Boomerang is your friend. Use it as much as you can.
5) Do the Work
Now it’s time to get to work. Close email. Turn off the notifications, and move to your to-do lists.
You can check email again this afternoon. You’ve got work to do. Prioritize today. Focus on the work you have to get done today.
Scan the top ten or twenty things on your to-do list, but really put your energy and focus on the things that simply have to get done today. The long term tasks will still be there tomorrow. Focus on the present.
We’re all busy. Email is a necessary evil, and while it may feel like a beast that you’ll never conquer, it is possible to get out in front of it. You can tame it.
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