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It happens to us all. We have a plan for the day, we arrive in the office, we check our email first and the next thing we know its lunchtime! Sound familiar? Read on to learn tips on how to take control of your Inbox and manage your time.

Our intentions are good, “I’ll just clear my Inbox before I start and then I will feel more organised”. But of course those emails just keep arriving because every reply we send prompts another one! And our stress levels increase because we don’t feel we are getting anywhere.  And our plan for the day? Well our email processing may have cleared some items but it may not. And that’s the problem, its reactive, it’s not planned. In fact we are often responding to someone else’s priorities.

Chose When You Check

To take control of your inbox it helps to close your Email programme or Email app. Why? Because statistics tells us that once an email interrupts us, even if we handle it in one minute, it takes another four minutes to get back to what we were doing. So if you can eliminate 15 interruptions a day, you could be creating up to an hour a day! If you do this for a week, that’s five more hours of uninterrupted working time that you have gained to increase your productivity.

So try to limit your email checks to a set number of times in the day. This is a scary concept for most of us, because we like to be in touch all the time. And maybe your job requires constant contact. But figure out if there are times when you can switch off your Email notifications and control when you  check in. Try first thing in the morning, after lunch and near the end of the day.  If that seems too little, add in a mid-morning and mid-afternoon check. Most things can wait an hour or two – think about the day you are caught in a 2 hour meeting and you can’t check mail, the world doesn’t stop.  So try to go 2 hours without checking your mail, even at your desk.

This won’t be possible every day but some days it might and on those days you will gain yourself some uninterrupted time to really concentrate and be your most productive.

Use a Process

We can lose a lot of time trying to decide what to do with our emails. So when you are checking your emails you need to be focussed. And a process helps you quickly distinguish between the important and non-important ones. So develop a way of categorising your emails as you read them. Try the approach described below and modify it to suit your way of working if necessary.

The first question is whether the email requires further action or not?

No further action – you have 2 options:

  1. Delete it
  2. File it (for reference)

Further Action – you have 3 options:

  1. Do It

This should only be a response that will take 2 minutes maximum

  1. Plan it

For something that will take longer don’t get caught up in it now. But make sure to schedule when you will do this – put a task in your calendar.

  1. Delegate it

For something you can’t do or someone else can definitely do. Forward the message on with a covering note

For the tasks you create think cleverly about when it really needs to be done.  If something is not due until next week, don’t do it this week, put a reminder in your calendar for a day before the deadline.

To make this work you firstly need to and set up folders in your Inbox to file the Email you want to keep. These folders should represent the way you work –create one per project or per client or per area of responsibility.

Try New Ways

Don’t always default to email. How about a phone call or a desk visit? Remember, every email you send can prompt a response that you will have to process later.  Email is great for facts, figures, reports, group updates and trace-ability but maybe the situation in hand calls for a chat or an exchange of opinions, feelings, thoughts. So challenge yourself, do I always need to send an email?

Take Control of Your Inbox

Take control of your inbox so you can manage your time. If it helps you get more done maybe others will try it too. Make changes as a group so you can all benefit. Maybe you can agree a particular morning or day where you try not to send any email to each other. Have a brainstorm with your team and come up with ideas that will best suit the way you all need to work.

So be productive and take control of your Inbox and manage your time. These tips may not suit everyone’s style or every work place. So modify them to suit your own environment. Let me know how it goes and of course I would love to hear any other ideas, tips or even email tools that have worked for you.

If you would like to learn more on how to gain more focus and get more done, contact for information on Productivity and Time Management Seminars, Training and Coaching.

Check our Articles section for more productivity and time management tips on Reducing StressManaging Your Attention and Saying No

(First Published on 15/5/2016)


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