I recently tweeted some email tips from Merlin Mann, the chap behind ‘Inbox Zero’ and an influence on our own Effortless Inbox time-management sessions (what do you mean, you don’t follow us on twitter? @INSPIRErational).
Mann’s tips are really good and they got me thinking about some extra ways to streamline your emails and your wider productivity.
1. Encourage others to do it too. It’s sometimes difficult to stick to a difficult task if you are the only one who has to do it. Going it alone also means that you only have yourself to motivate you and stop you from falling back into bad old habits. If a colleague is involved you’re less likely to just pack the whole thing in, and they can remind you of the benefits. Just make sure you motivate them as much as they motivate you!
2. Write it down. The whole point of the streamlining process is to cut down on clutter, but you can’t be expected to remember everything all the time. Sometimes just a nudge in the right direction can make all the difference. Write down what you want to achieve. Do it neatly and discreetly, and then stick it somewhere noticeable. A small reminder might encourage you to take action when you see it, instead of pointlessly opening and closing your email.
3. Play to the whistle, not the clock (finish tasks properly.) Need someone else’s input before you can sign something off? Chase them for it. Document come back from checking with no changes? Email it right now. If you’re concentrating on a task, keep going until either until it’s 100% completed or you personally can’t do any more.
4. Take a break when they take a break. Obviously you need someone to answer the telephones, so don’t all abandon the office to play outside. But structured breaks are both more satisfying and less disruptive then people fading in and out. You finish a task and email it to a colleague, but they’re at lunch. Eventually they come back and take a look at it, and send it back – but now you’re at lunch. By the time you’ve returned, answered any (important) emails and deleted the rest, they might be off making coffee. Why not have your lunch and breaks together? You’ll have someone to talk to, you’ll come back feeling energised, and you needn’t talk about work because you’ll be working together again as soon as you sit down.
5. Set your own deadlines. “I’ll do it by the end of the day” might be OK with your boss (provided you DO do it, of course), but perhaps you could fit more in if you set yourself a stricter goal. Assess how long you think a task OUGHT to take, and then set yourself a deadline based on your estimate. If you work consistently and don’t make the deadline, don’t worry, your initial estimate was just too conservative, and you’ll know for next time.