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By Pierre Khawand
Founder & CEO
People-OnTheGo
http://www.people-onthego.com

(Note: I invited Pierre to do this guest post and be on The Startup Success Podcast after buying and reading his book, The Accomplishing More with Less Workbook. Got questions for Pierre? Add them to his Guest page before Jan. 31st!)

The rumors that e-mail is “dead” have been put to rest time after time. Even though some Social Media evangelists would like us to believe that e-mail is dead, and most of us who are spending hours on e-mail every day wish this would be the case, reality just confirmed once more that e-mail is still king! Our recent survey of 1000 business professionals revealed that on the average they spend 3.27 hours on e-mail every day while only 1.18 hours on Social Media. Whether we like it or not, e-mail is here to stay! Most importantly, critical business notifications and information still come to us through e-mail.
Bottom line is that we are still spending a good part of our day in our e-mail inbox! Or in “e-mail jail” as one of my workshop participants called it. This is partly necessary to conducted business and partly self-inflicted. “Self-inflicted?” You might ask. Totally! E-mail is a great escape. It is the ultimate break from more difficult tasks. It gives us this feeling that we accomplished something. It satisfies our curiosity. In summary, e-mail is seductive, addictive, rewarding, and also anxiety-provoking all at the same time.
So how can we stop this love-hate relationship with our e-mail inbox and turn e-mail into something more healthy and productive in 2011. Here are some techniques that can help. When applied consistently and over time, these techniques have helped business professionals transform e-mail from being a daunting and stressful to being a productive and stress-free!
#1: Don’t start your day on e-mail. Start by taking a few minutes to jot down the key accomplishments that you would like to achieve today. Ask yourself the simple but utterly important questions: What is important? And what do I want to accomplish today? Envision what a successful day would look like. According to Chip and Dan Heath, the authors of Switch, when we have a destination in mind, it is likely that we can create change and make things happen. This morning exercise is likely to re-direct your attention to, and focus your energy on, the bigger things instead of getting your energy and creativity stolen away by your e-mail inbox right from the beginning.
#2: Treat e-mail like a task. A task that has a beginning and an end, instead of being an ongoing task. This new “contained” e-mail task starts when you go to your e-mail inbox, and ends when you have handled all the “new” messages in your inbox (the messages that arrived since you performed this task last). When this task is done, you leave e-mail alone, and handle the more important and strategic tasks that are going to get you results. You can repeat this e-mail task as often as you think is necessary. My recommendation is that you consider repeating it every 30 or 40 minutes but not more often (check out The Results Curve free download to learn why the 30 or 40 minutes).
#3: Treat each e-mail message like a micro task. Once you start handling the message, this is it. No breaks. No opening new messages when you hear the beep. No opening other unrelated documents. No checking Twitter or Facebook. Stay focused on the message on hand and finish handling it first. Furthermore, treat this message like a “hot potato.” Get your reply out as quickly as you can. No day dreaming and no dwelling over the small stuff. If however the message requires significant thinking and/or effort, then either stop your e-mail task and switch to the task that is in the message, or tag the e-mail message so you can come back to it later add.
#4. Tag every e-mail message that you cannot handle right away. Depending on the e-mail application you are using, this may be flagging the message (see Microsoft Outlook 2003 free demo), or categorizing it (Microsoft Outlook 2007 or 2010), or labeling it (Google Mail), or tagging it (Mac Mail with SmartTag add-on), or whatever else. There are three tags I would recommend. The “Today” tag, the “Tomorrow” tag, and the “Waiting For” tag. The “Today” tag implies that this is a message that you need to get back to today, while the “Tomorrow” tag implies that this can wait, and the “Waiting For” tag means that you are delegating to someone else and expecting them to handle it.
#5: Think 80/20. 80% of our results come from 20% of our effort. The same applies to e-mail. 80% of our results come from 20% of our e-mails. So in essence, 80% of our e-mails can be ignored or dealt with very quickly. As soon as you take a look at an e-mail, make a quick determination if this is part of the 80% or the 20% and then act accordingly. Handle the 20% carefully and strategically, but spend very little time or no time at the other 80%. If you have to respond to such messages, make it very short, and don’t spend time editing.
The time has come to break free from the “e-mail Jail!” The time is 2011!
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Pierre Khawand, Founder & CEO of People-OnTheGo (http://www.people-onthego.com) is a productivity evangelist helping business professionals and organizations overcome the challenges of the digital overload. He is the author of The Accomplishing More With Less Workbook, The Results Curve: How to manage focused and collaborative time!, and The New New Inbox: How Email and Social Media Changed Our Lives. He can be reached at pierre@people-onthego.com and on Twitter at @pierrekhawand.

3 Comments

  1. I suggest to email-stressed colleagues that they start by ending the Tyranny Of The Beep – email is an asynchronous communications medium and we don’t have to know (or care) about the exact time a message arrived, nor do we need to read it (and suffer the context switch overhead) immediately. If we manage our correspondents’ expectations so that they don’t expect instant response then my experience is that no-one seems to mind. Mostly they like predictable response, whatever it is. If something’s really urgent, I have this quaint device on my desk and another, rather sexier device in my pocket – they’re called telephones…

  2. I personally think that all medium/large businesses should train their staff on effective email techniques. It is absurd how much time people spend in their inbox instead of doing their work. A good article with some useful ideas on email use.

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