This article is based on a portion of an Expert Interview with Laura Stack, author of “Leave the Office Earlier.” and is also based on personal experience.
How many items are on your to-do list? And how many of those will you actually cross off today?
Time management and planning are foundational to personal productivity, yet many people don’t approach each day with a plan, and as a result end up wasting valuable time in a reactive mode. Others at least have a to-do list, but typically attack the easy items first, which means the important items don’t get done very fast!
Of course, one of the big enemies of personal productivity today is e-mail. The constant flow of e-mail alerts during the day can destroy your concentration and cause you to flit from one project or crisis to the next. But you do not have to work in this state of e-mail-induced ADD.
Let’s face it, most e-mails are not that important. And almost none require you to drop everything. Set the expectation that you will respond within 24 hours, then live up to that standard. You can do this by setting a time to look at your e-mail twice a day, say every four hours. But first you have to break the e-mail addiction. The key is to turn off all your alerts if you are using Outlook for example or if you are like our company and have made the switch to the Cloud and are using Google Apps, it’s as simple as working from your calendar and Tasks list rather than your email.
Your next step is to be disciplined about looking at your e-mail for a half hour or so twice a day, and ruthlessly applying the six Ds of e-mail management: Learn how to control and manage your emails rather than allowing them to control and manage you.
Let’s take a closer look at the six Ds of e-mail management:
Discard it. This one’s easy. Make a snap decision and hit the delete key. Before you hit the delete key you may wish to “unsubscribe” from future mailings to ensure you eliminate the time spent on hitting delete.
Delegate it. Can someone else handle it? Is the email for someone else? Simply forward it with a quick note, and then move it to a personal folder (see below for more on personal folders).
Do it. If you can handle it in three minutes, do it and be done with it. You won’t have to come back and mentally process it again, which is a victory.
Date it. This is for e-mails that you need to reply to, but can’t right now. Many people get stuck here, but there’s a simple remedy if you know your software. In Outlook and also in Google Apps for Business, for instance, you can automatically convert an e-mail to a to-do item. It’s a great way of allocating specific time to responding to the email as an formal task in your workday.
Drawer. For personal e-mails or things that don’t require any action but you don’t want to delete, simply move to a specific folder so you can access or review another time.
Deter. This is for the stuff that makes you ask “Why am I getting this?” So take the step of adding the sender to your blocked senders list, or unsubscribe, or set up a rule that says anytime something comes from this address, it’s going into the trash or some specific folder.
There you have it – a simple system for defeating the tyranny of e-mail and taking back your personal productivity. Try it, you’ll be surprised at how much more focused you will be, and how much more you’ll get done.