Personal Productivity – Module 9
“To err is human, but to really foul things up requires a computer.”
E-mail can be a great time-saver, but it can also be a great time waster, too. This module will give you some tools to manage your e-mail time wisely. We’ll also look at how to take back your life from your handheld device.
Using E-mail Time Wisely
Like other routine tasks (such as returning phone calls, handling paper mail, and checking voice mail), e-mail is best handled in batches at regularly scheduled times of the day. We suggest setting aside a period of time at the beginning of the day, right before or after lunch, and at the end of the day. During that period, focus on getting your inbox cleaned out. If you can’t get it all done during your designated time frame, decide whether to extend the time frame, let it wait until your next e-mail session, or use the five-minute rule and work on it throughout the day.
If your business requires you to be more responsive, try setting your e-mail program to download e-mail every 30 to 60 minutes, rather than every minute. This will prevent you from being distracted and help you maintain a more continuous workflow.
When reviewing your e-mail, try to take action right away to keep your inbox as clear as possible. You can:
• Read it, and then file or delete it
• Reply to it and then file it
• Delete it without taking any other action (appropriate for junk mail)
• Forward it and file it
• Mark it for follow-up (appropriate when you need to gather information before replying
Making the Most of Your E-mail Program
You might not know it, but your e-mail program can probably take over some of your daily tasks. Most e-mail programs include tools to save you time and reduce the time you spend dealing with e-mail.
Our favorite features include:
• Custom folders (much like the folders on your hard drive)
• Rules to move e-mails to folders, or perform other actions upon certain triggers
• Colored flags, including follow-up flags with reminders
• Categories or keywords
• Search tools
• Junk mail filtering
• Auto-archive and e-mail cleanup
• Integrated task, calendar, and contact management systems
Our challenge to you: take five minutes each day to see what your e-mail program can do for you!
Taking Time Back from Handheld Devices
Disruptions are the biggest obstacle towards being more productive. We have already talked about handling e-mail and unannounced visitors. Another major source of disruptions, ironically, can come from handheld devices, cell phones, smart phones, and BlackBerries. Now you can be interrupted anywhere, anytime!
To ensure that your handheld device increases (rather than decreases) your productivity, try these tips.
• Turn off as many notifications as possible.
• Use your device for work or home – not both.
• Give your number to essential people only.
• If you’re at your desk, set the device aside.
• Use voice mail and automatic reply to let people know when you’ll be away from your desk.
• Set your device to vibrate in meetings, or turn it off if possible.
Rachel saw double as she tried to race through the thousands of emails in her inbox. Half of her day disappeared like the wind because she had been buried under more email than she could read in her lifetime and work called her name and so did her coworker, Ellen. Ellen had been floored by the amount of work she couldn’t get done because Rachel couldn’t see past the email on her desktop. Ellen knew she had to come to the rescue and save Rachel from the email culprit. Ellen created a handy dandy chart detailing how long each task Rachel had to do in a day would take and allowed Rachel 5 minutes every hour to key a response and return to her work full-throttle. The system worked and Rachel drove in the driver’s lane again and geared up for a very productive day of not getting side-swiped by emails.