To Be More Efficient, Create Your Own E-Mail Outage
Have you or your company ever suffered from an e-mail outage? And not just a platform outage, like the Great Blackberry Outage of 2011, but one for which there was no workaround? How did you respond?
Our responses to such a scenario vary widely. Some spend their entire day staring at a frozen Outlook window; others wander the hallways frantically hitting the refresh button on their iPhones. Still others feel the acute stress of not being responsive to customers and bosses. A few may fly into a Lord of the Flies-type panic like under-prepared morning show hosts who lose their teleprompter.
Yet many people who “suffer” such an outage find the situation enjoyable, refreshing, and, best of all, productive.
In today’s day and age, as we are all more connected to our colleagues, employees, families, bosses, clients, and suppliers, so are we chained to, and controlled by, the tools providing this connectivity. Communications tools like e-mail and instant messaging were meant to make us more efficient and productive. Instead, we allow the blinking red Blackberry light, the vibrating iPhone, and Outlook’s tiny envelope notification to interrupt our work and concentration, and to determine how we organize our days and what we accomplish.
This is a tremendous drain on productivity. Positive psychologists, like Mihály Csíkszentmihályi, speak a lot about the concept of “flow,” a state of heightened focus and immersion in activities when artists are at their most creative, athletes their most dominant, and workers (from the line to the C-suite) their most productive. It takes some time to achieve a state of flow, and any interruption simply hits the psychological reset button, returning us to zero. Design firm Adaptive Path knows this, and tries to avoid scheduling meetings that will interrupt project team members’ design time. But even if we push meetings to the outer boundaries of our schedule, we continue to sabotage our productive capabilities by allowing e-mail to control our days.
The good news is…you can take your day back from e-mail. Here’s how:
- Create your own e-mail outage.
Rarely does any e-mail demand an immediate response. The sender of the e-mail does not know if you are talking on the phone, sitting in a meeting, or stepping away to stretch your legs. And it is simply unreasonable to think that because this time works for me, it must work for you. If an answer is needed NOW, a phone call or in-person visit will always be more effective. So, accept the premise that e-mail, by its very nature, does not require an immediate response. Allow yourself to check it on your own terms—turn off all notifications…anything that you would notice while you are working and that would tempt you to switch windows in your e-mail or unlock your smartphone.
- When you turn your e-mail back on, address it in batches.
I do not recommend that you actually schedule “e-mail time” on your calendar. I’ve tried it; it doesn’t work. What does work, however, is shutting down or minimizing e-mail, for the next 30 minutes, hour, or whatever time you need to complete a task or a series of tasks. That way, when you do turn back to your e-mail, you will be doing so on your own time, not someone else’s, and you will be able to address many e-mails at once. Dealing with 20 e-mails is much more worth the interruption of flow than just one, especially if that one is a “reply all” that can be swiftly deleted.
- And when you do, PROCESS your e-mail.
Most of us simply manage our e-mail. We reach a state of détente with it—it is huge, has overwhelming force, and the power to destroy us. So, our goal is to mitigate the threat and avoid massive destruction. You can do more and, I promise you, you can even eliminate your entire inbox. Here’s how:
- DELETE immediately. Many studies show that typically half of the e-mails we receive each day require no response or retention;
- DO it, if it cannot be deleted and can be done in less than two minutes. Many e-mails simply require a very quick response or call back. Take care of that immediately;
- DELEGATE immediately, if delegable;
- OR DEFER it if it cannot be deleted, done in two minutes, or delegated. Create a “@To Do” or “@Action Items” folder (using the @ ensures that it will sit at the top of your folders list). Turn to this set of tasks when the time is right for you. And be sure to set the Properties for this folder so that it shows the TOTAL number of items in it, not the number of unread items.
And this is just the start. By following the three steps and four D’s described above, you can, quite literally achieve the goal of “clearing out your inbox”—not just once, but throughout the day. Some call this the Zero Inbox. I call it my little bit of zen in the middle of the workday. It is my strategy for remaining focused and productive, without sacrificing responsiveness.
What GCR Can Do For You:
Contact your Executive Advisor to discuss the Five Steps to Save Time Spent on E-Mail.
Learn about best practices for Rationalizing Legal Department Workload.
Contact your Account Manager to arrange an interactive Reprioritizing Workload and Department Efficiency Workshop.
If you would like further information about this or related topics, please contact Aaron Kotok.