Let me put something to you.
You open your e-mail account at work. There are a number of new emails present. You open each, in order, and read them. So far, so good.
Then you consider them fully read and understood, and you think “I really have to do something about ….”, your mind triggered by what each one has demanded from you.
And then you carry on either with whatever you intended to do before your routine perusal of the in-box, or you put all your effort into dealing with those emails.
Wrong on both counts, conditionally.
Wrong, because you’ve already failed the Importance/Urgency analysis required if you want to do the right thing in the right way at the right time for the right reasons. (Deep breath.)
E-mails are great, and e-mails are evil. They are great because they are a quick-ish way of communicating that which needs non-urgent attention, and they provide a detailed record of who said what and when. They are evil because they also replace faster, telephone calls where answers can be obtained in seconds, and decisions called for and made just as quickly. The problem is that because e-mails exist, few people give thought to whether or not they are the most effective means for communication. They (and other electronic methods such as Messenger and WhatsApp) have become the default contact media.
They are also evil because they come in clumps, and they have replaced the properly-assessed and prioritised To-Do List because unless and until you take the time to make that assessment, they are all staring you in the face – and one of the reasons for that is because you aren’t manging them properly.
Here, therefore, is my sage advice.
- If a call is quicker, and whenever you do need an immediate response – use the bloomin’ telephone – the speaky bit, not the texty bit.
- When you receive e-mails, read them one at a time, and decide on the action required as you read it. If the action takes 2-5 minutes or less, do that action before you read the next e-mail. This is because the next e-mail will split your attention, as will all the others you elect to read before acting on any of them.
- If the action required takes longer, plan the action required and move on to the next e-mail AFTER you make that plan (whether it be an appointment or a longer task).
- Once an e-mail has been dealt with, delete it if you can.
- If you can’t delete it, you need to manage it in a sensible, considered fashion. (I detail how to do that in my book, Police Time Management).
Above all, do NOT ‘convert’ your email in-box into an ever-expanding To Do List. By all means use it to trigger your planning, which you should do elsewhere (including on the programme in terms of making appointments and tasks in Outlook, for example), but once the trigger is pulled, get it out of there.
The biggest fault with an improperly managed and misused in-box is that each time you open it as it gets ever larger, your brain sees only a huge amount of incompletes. If you complete and delete (must TM that), or plan and file, then your head can manage the remainder – and the new – much better than when it sees ‘lots of stuff’.
As I write, my in-box is empty. How’s yours?