If you've been following along this week, you know that I'm sharing some time management tips and tools that I've been trying out as part of my ongoing attempt to be more productive. Yesterday I talked about the Two Minute Rule. Today I'm going to talk about getting through email, which is without a doubt, one of the biggest time sucks for many people.
Use Your Inbox as a Runway, Not a Parking Spot
Lisa Peake has a great article on the 10 Beginner Behaviors for GTD and one of them is to use your inbox as a runway, getting things in and out of there as quickly as possible. I love that metaphor as it gives me a way to keep thinking about whether or not I'm using my inbox effectively. If stuff is sticking around for awhile, clearly there's a problem.
Check Your Email Only a Few Times a Day
Tim Ferris, author of The 4-Hour Work Week, says that you should only check email twice a day--once at mid morning (never check first thing unless you want to get sucked into email hell) and once in mid-afternoon. I will tell you right now that this is the one I struggle with the most, but Tim and others make the excellent point that each time we check email, we're shifting our attention away from whatever we're working on, making it more difficult to return to our previous task. Having engaged in obsessive email checking, I can say that I'm always more focused when I can't get online, so I've been trying very hard to do this. It really does help.
Process Your Email Effectively
Since you're only checking your email a few times a day, now you have to learn how to process it. Basically you'll need to decide if you should:
- Delete it
- Archive it
- Defer it for later (if it will take you longer than 2 minutes to generate a response)
- Generate a next action step from it
- Respond to it immediately, if it will take you 2 minutes or less.
As you go through your inbox, make decisions quickly and move your email out of your inbox into the appropriate folder. If you need to defer emails until later to respond, put them in a separate folder and then set aside time to go through and crank out as many responses as you can. Here are some additional tips on processing your email that might be helpful.
The ultimate goal is getting your inbox to empty. I will tell you that this has not happened for me for a few weeks now, despite my attempts to get better at processing. I still think that these are great ideas, though, and I continue diligently in my attempts to apply them.
What are your best tips for managing your email?
Photo via rscottjones.