Seriously, I love email. Almost as much as I love chocolate and that is saying a lot. My colleague, Claire Burge, my junior by two decades and based in technology hub Ireland, hates it. We are at battle in finding the middle ground.
Analysing the yin/yan of this situation gets me arguing for/against the same points. You see, the things I love are all the things she hates and if I am perfectly honest, I can see her side almost as clearly as I can see mine.
So while Claire is lobbying “no more email”, I am advocating “let’s maximise this awesome tool.” This is my why and my how:
- Granted there are restrictions for users on platforms other than Microsoft Outlook, if this means you; you can benefit from a crash course on integrating email with Evernote. For everyone else I recon getting more organised can go a long a way to increasing your productivity: email is more than just send/receive.
- If you, like more than half of your colleagues, are checking email 30-40 times an hour, remove all automatic mail receipt notifications. The temptation of the ping, envelope icon, changed cursor or message alert displaying in the bottom right of your computer screen is way too great. Studies show that it can take as much as 20 minutes to get back to the same peak focus when you drop a task and hop to another. Schedule 3 x 30 minute email check-ins per day and work smart during this time to read, respond, file or delete your mail at this time.
- If you do nothing more than number 2 above you would have saved yourself a whopping 10% in productivity time. However, this is not enough considering the wasted hours spent in email overwhelm. If you are using Outlook calendar as your diary of choice, change your setting so that your email opens onto calendar instead of inbox. This gives you an overview of your day ahead without drawing you into reactive mode by checking your inbox. Note: Calendar is used for scheduled tasks/meetings that have a specific date and time.
- The task tool acts as your to-do list. This is a running list of things you need to action/wait for/delegate/read that is not date or time specific.
- From your inbox and during your 30 minute check-in, try to get into the habit to right-click dragging and dropping your emails onto the calendar or task icon at the bottom left menu bar. This gives you the option of dragging your email out of your cluttered inbox for auctioning when due.
- Other cool Outlook tools that are super time savers and too good not to mention:
- If you can encapsulate the full content of your email in the subject line, don’t bother writing a message. Type EOM (End of Message) at the end of your subject and push send. Both you and Bob get to save time; you in the writing, him in the reading and you both know, with clarity, that “the Sept board meeting is confirmed for the 19th EOM”.
- Microsoft Outlook understands English. Instead of selecting the down arrow key to scroll for the right time and/or date, simply place your cursor in the text block to the left of the down arrow and type: next thurs, 2nd fri in jan, valentine’s day, 12:00, etc. and away you go.
- Typed in capitals and now need to toggle the font from upper to lower case? Highlight the text that needs changing and hold shift + F3 to toggle the text till it appears as you need it.
- “Notes” is a great place to hold those odd bits of information. Make sure you use the top line of the note as the subject and then type away things like: login details (use a code to help you remember your passwords), service provider reference numbers and even your shopping list.
- Quick cheat to taking charge of your inbox so you can move forward with good habits: create a new folder called “Inbox @XYZ date” (choose a date 2 months before today) and drag and drop all your inbox items that are up to that date into this new folder. Now that your inbox is looking a little more manageable, use FAD (file – action – delete) for processing all future mails and drag mails from your inbox into folders, notes, contacts (to file for future reference or legal purposes), into your calendar and tasks (for things that still require an action). For everything else, press delete.
PS: While writing this blog I learnt, via an email arriving serendipitously into my inbox, that the first email was sent 40 years ago – the year of my birth. Just one more reason to love it!