How to Increase Productivity and Keep Your Email from Taking Over Your Life

email
email

We seem to live in a world of 2 email camps:

  • NEVER look at your email first thing in the morning
  • ALWAYS look at your email first thing in the morning

The “NEVERS” believe that if you get caught up in email minutia you will not get your most important work.

The “ALWAYS” believe that if you don’t know what’s lurking and clear up the “must-dos” than you may miss something important.

I suspect that some of this has to do with the type of work you do and the kind of responsibilities you have.  For those that work globally, email may in fact be your primary means of communication.  For those of us in the service business we communicate with our clients via email and I personally, could NEVER not be an “ALWAYS.”

HOWEVER, it isn’t this cut and dry.  It isn’t about ALWAYS or NEVER.  Like everything, the answer lies in the grey zone.  The question is: What systems can be put in place to ensure that email doesn’t take over your life?  I’ve tried a lot of different things, and I’ve worked with my clients to try different things.  As with ALL organizing, there is no such thing as one size fits all, and no one system ALWAYS works for the same person ALL the time.  Different circumstances require different systems.  Here are a few you may want to consider:

  • Set the Timer: Commit one hour to email at the start of each day.  After the hour, shut down your email until later. (Perhaps 30 minutes before lunch, 30 minutes after lunch and another chunk of time at the end of the day).
  • 3 and Done: Review your emails deleting irrelevant emails as you read.  Select the 3 most important emails to respond to and process them.  Then turn off your email and go to work.
  • Plan first – review 2nd: The very first thing you do when you get to your desk is review your priorities and select the 3 most important things you must accomplish that day.  Perhaps processing your email is one of those 3 most important things.  It may be strategically appropriate to spend an entire morning processing email.
  • Plan your email around your calendar: If you take the train to work, train time can be great email processing time (hope you have a connection on your train), if you have a lot of phone calls with gaps in between those are great email processing time. Email doesn’t take ramp up time – project work does, fit email in the nooks and crannies.
  • Organize by Priorities: Just like your work has critical tasks so does your email.  By organizing them you will know what is most important. (http://www.ellenfaye.com/blog/2013/01/22/reducing-email-stress/#more-48).

Other tips:

  • turn off the notifications that pops up telling you you have an email each and every second.  No matter how un-ADD you are, this is bound to take you off task.
  • Google has an amazing timer built into their web search bar.  Type Timer 1 hour or Timer 30 minutes (or however much or little you want) and you’ll get a great notification pop up after that amount of time (try it now with a minute – you’ll love it).

Understand that you have way too much email and that if you try to make it black and white, you will NEVER get it right and ALWAYS feel stressed.

How to Conquer Paper Clutter – Think Before You Print

Printer Icon
Think Before You Print

Paper overwhelm is one of the most commonly voiced productivity concerns I hear.  There is just too much. There are many was of managing paper but today we are going to focus on printing less.  The best thing you can do is think before you print.

Thinking before printing not only helps the environment but helps you be more productive by reducing the quantity of stuff you have to plow through to find the stuff that matters most.  What can you do instead of printing?

  • Emails: Learn to use the search function.  All email programs today have excellent search functions.  While my preference is to file emails logically, even if you leave them all in your inbox you can still search for what you need when you need it.  It is actually easier to find a specific email on your computer than in various unfiled piles in your office.
  • Articles: If you haven’t yet downloaded Evernote do so today.  It’s free and crosses platforms – that means you can use it on your phone, tablet, and Mac/PC.  Evernote also has a fabulous search function so you can find what you are looking for in a heartbeat.  You can copy and paste the article into Evernote, you can save links in Evernote, and you can clip pictures into Evernote.  It’s much more efficient to find what you are looking for in Evernote than in the various piles in your office
  • Drafts:  Do you need to print and keep every draft of a project you are working on? If in fact you need to print, only keep the most current or two most current.  Printing and keeping multiple copies of the same thing is both confusing and wasteful.

When Is A Signature More Than A Signature?

email signatures
email signatures

Many people use their email signature as a way to communicate credentials, contact information and marketing links. Sometimes people include an inspirational message. These are all great uses…but there is more you can do.

Most email programs provide an option for multiple signatures. Some people use this feature to change between business and personal signatures. This of course is helpful. But imagine the possibilities if you used these signatures to communicate information you use all the time.

The best way for me to explain this is to share what I do. If I find that I’m sending the same information in emails over and over again, it is worthwhile to turn it into a signature (I actually put the body of the letter into the signature.) Then when I need to send that email, all I need to do is change to that particular signature, add the salutation (Dear Jane), make a few personalization tweaks, and hit send.

Here are the signatures I use:

  • Coaching – is used when replying to a client interested in coaching
  • Ellen – is for when I just want my name
  • Ellen Faye Organization – is my full blown signature with all the bells and whistles
  • Ellen Personal – is for personal correspondence with my home phone #, etc.
  • Ellen Short – is essential information used for business
  • ePub – is used to thank people for signing up for my weekly tip
  • Mom – is for my kids… (says…Love, Mom)
  • New Organizer – is for inquiries about becoming a Professional Organizer
  • Yahoo Invite – as Yahoo Group coordinator for my local NAPO chapter, I use this to invite new chapter members to join the Yahoo Group.

This super useful tool saves me a great deal of time. Check out the signatures feature in your email program to see how you can benefit. Questions – post them as a comment on my blog and I’ll get back to you right away.

Best Tip for Managing Your Email

email

Imagine every email is a phone message you had to return! I suspect that means you are spending your entire work day on the phone and not getting to your important work. If you put your email responses through the same filter as your phone call responses you’ll reduce the volume and focus on the most important messages. 

  • You may think it’s polite to answer each and every email – but it’s not. Email etiquette suggests you only respond when useful.
  • When you see a big list of people who are copied, it’s ok to take people out of the response list if your response isn’t relevant to them.
  • It’s ok to decide that an email string isn’t a top priority and delete it. Remember, only you are in control of how you use and manage your time.

And don’t forget that your email inbox isn’t a storage location. If you don’t need the email anymore, file it, or even better – DELETE it!

From Digital Clutterer to Digitally Productive

Digital Clutter
Digital Clutter

Yes – actually we now have names for people who keep too much electronic information.  But, there is good news!  Unlike physical clutter where our space fills up and overflows, our computers can handle massive amounts of data.  Bad news is, just like physical clutter, it can negatively affect our quality of life.  Is this you?

  • You’ve missed an important opportunity because the email invitation was hidden among hundreds of unimportant emails
  • You’ve spent hours looking for a document you know you had but couldn’t find
  • Your computer is mired in so much muck that it no longer is the wonderful resource it once was.

Continue reading »

This isn’t so bad

“This isn’t so bad” is perhaps one of the more frequent statements I hear out of my client’s mouths. It doesn’t quite matter if we are sorting stuff, culling emails, consolidating post-its or any of the other numerous tasks that go into becoming more organized and productive, I hear it often…”this isn’t so bad”.

What’s that about? Could it possibly be that:

  • creating order and structure actually is a relief?
  • getting rid of excess actually feels good?
  • being in control of one’s responsibilities actually is a good thing?

Yes, I’m convinced of all that, and I’m convinced that having some semblance of order contributes to a better life overall.

Then why is it so hard to do it? The easy answer is because there are so other things we have to do that it’s hard to prioritize taking care of our work space. What if we were to reframe this? For those of you who love to exercise and would never miss a workout, but the thought of spending time getting your office or desk or kitchen island in shape is horrifying – ask yourself why is this any different?

Organizing is simply a workout for your space. Without the maintenance of taking care of your stuff, your space gets sluggish, inefficient and blob-like. Once you invest a bit of time and energy into taking care of it you feel lightened up, more agile and more nimble. And that isn’t so bad.

Paper-less not Paperless

I recently attended a workshop on digital filing. It was clear that the concept of a paperless office was completely unrealistic. What is clear however is that we can simply reduce our use of paper by training ourselves to think differently? I pose to you the challenge of going Paper-LESS. Yes, LESS PAPER! Easy Paper-LESS changes:

  • Don’t automatically print out receipts of on-line purchases – Do file electronic confirmations in an email folder (mine is called on-line purchases!)
  • Don’t automatically print out emails you need to act on – Do put the action item into your task management system (on your to-do list, on to your calendar, etc.)
  • Don’t automatically print out airline ticket confirmations – Do put arrival and departure information (including flight numbers and confirmation codes) right onto your calendar.

These are simply places to start. However the real trick is the “automatically” part. You are going to have to change the habit you now have of hitting the print button at every turn. Instead of hitting Print try hitting a mental Pause and asking yourself “can I do with less paper?” Because when Paper-Less you have less clutter, and less clutter means fewer distractions from your important work.

Time Control

Endless Tasks….Overwhelming Pressure…Desire for Results…Knowing there has to be a better way….

Escaping to Walden Pond or traveling the country via RV are definitely options – but for most of us not viable ones. Minor adjustments that cumulate for noticeable change are much more desirable. Here are some of my favorite time control techniques:

MINIMIZE THRASHING

Thrashing is the computer science term for when a system spends more time switching from task to task then actually working on the task. When we spend our time thinking about what we have to do, remembering where we were in the project, and then building up momentum to get results we are thrashing. Nothing is more frustrating than getting to the meat of a project and then having to stop. I have found the best way to minimize thrashing is to plan substantial chunks of time for a project. I’ll arrange my schedule to be able to commit 2 or 3 CONTINUOUS hours to the task. While it may be hard to find those uninteruptable hours it sure is worth it when the project is done!    Continue reading »

Reducing Email Stress

One thing I’ve learned over the years is that I cannot project my personal need for “InboxZero” on others. What I can tell you is when my inbox has too many emails in it I feel stressed that I’m missing something important and unclear what I should be doing next. My solution is to sort the emails in my inbox in order of PRIORITY. If you use Outlook, try assigning and sorting by categories. These are the categories I use. For sorting purposes, it’s important to put the letter in front:     Continue reading »