Welcome to lesson 2 of the crash time management course. In this lesson there are two videos on how you use your email and developing a framework for incoming actions.
The biggest problem with email is that most people use their Inbox as a task management system. This does two things
These two factors impede our productivity and wellbeing.
Please note: while I talk videos below using Outlook as my example, this could easily be applied to Gmail, Lotus Notes, or for pen and paper.
The point of processing and triage is to turn email into what it is, rather than leaving it in the Inbox and risk multiple handling.
How are you currently using your inbox? Are you living in your inbox? When I work as a time management coach into many companies, people often tell me that they use their email as a place to hold their actions. This can mean that you multiple handle your email you waste plenty of time.
You have a better system in Outlook which are your tasks and your calendar.
Some people tell me that they use their inbox as a filing system and when they need that email they scroll down inbox to see if they can find. Again you have a better system set up folders. How you set up your folders to reduce filing costs and search time is important.
Some people also tell me that they keep their email in their inbox because they might need to contact those people. So they scroll down and find the email and then they have a look at the signature where there is a phone number. However, that may take lots of time. Remember six weeks per year looking for stuff. That is what the average white-collar worker spends looking at stuff they already have. You have a better system in Outlook contacts.
Other people like to leave emails in their inbox because this is how they plan what they’re going to do - today or across the next week. So they are using their email as a planning system. This leads to lots of multiple handling and poor prioritisation. Again you have a better planning system which is the Workly ©
Turn messages into what they really are tasks information calendar entries or contacts.
This biggest problem with email today happens as a result of the inbox being used as a task management system.
Well this is primarily for two reasons.
The first is that we don’t assign time to do things that are important, so we end up doing the easy stuff and procrastinating on the really big stuff. This often results in being deadline driven and lurching from one panic station to the next.
The second issue of keeping your actions in the inbox is that of multiple handling. When we keep our email in our inbox with the intention that we will get them done later we’ve already fallen into the trap of multiple handling which wastes your time and increases stress.
So how do we prevent multiple handling on email and the negative impact that this habit has on our time and our stress levels?
Rather than being a slave to machine how can we use it as a tall and put email back where it really belongs?
Well we need to have a framework to manage actions.
Now the framework I’m going to show you is adapted from David Allen’s book called ‘Getting Things Done’. It’s called processing and what I’m going to do is I’m going to apply this to email.
So processing is more than checking and it’s less than responding, it’s actually making decision.
Now we are talking about email but this could, and it should, be applied to any incoming information or action. Whether it’s an email, whether it’s a phone call, whether it’s a request from another person.
But let’s just apply to email in this example.
When an email comes in the first question to ask yourself is “do I need to do something?”. It is a pretty simple question. Email contains either actions to be done or information. So either way it’s either a yay or nay. Now if it is a ‘nay’ the email simply contains information then read and/or delete or file it if you’ll need information again.
On the other hand, if you do need to do something - the email has an action that you need to do - then you need to ask yourself “what is the next logical step that moves that action forward”. For example, if I’ve got an issue with my car, my next logical step is not to drive my car to the service station and get it fixed by the mechanic. My next logical step is to actually make the phone call and book the car in.
So your next step is the next logical action that you need to take to move the project forward. And that’s a pretty easy decision for about 99% of emails and it should only take you a fraction of a second and mental effort to decide on the next logical step. After you’ve decided what the next logical action is you now need to decide “how long that next logical step is going to take”.
Now this is an important question to ask yourself and helps you to decide what you are going to do with the action.
Are you going to do it now or are you going to defer it?
So you may get an email that involves a project that goes over the 6 months. Still ask yourself what the next logical step is and how long this next logical step is going to take. This helps closes the open decision loop which can cause so much stress.
There are a few rules of thumb to take into account.
Once you put this action into your system - into your tasks or into your calendar - you then either file the email into your new folder structure that you set up previously or you delete the email. The key step here is that you’re separating information from action.
The action is going into a system, in this case, Outlook tasks and our calendar and the information is going into a folder structure that we can find quickly.
When you’re in your inbox I’d like to have at least four action verbs uppermost in your mind. These are
Can you think of any other action verbs that you would consider in your world of work. I can think of a few more: