I bet that in your inbox you have numerous folders, and within each of those folders are the emails that you’re safeguarding and preserving in case you need them at some point in time. I bet that when you need to look at what you need to do for today you may have a to-do list on the side of your desk. Or you’re trawling through your inbox looking for the emails that will tell you what you need to do.
Maybe you’re flagging one so that little flag stands out, they remind you that you need to attend to it. So here’s the thing- what you’re doing is spending all your time trawling through your inbox to find what it is that you need to do. You’re not spending valuable time doing the work, you’re spending valuable time finding the work.
Typically people will sort their mail in their inbox by the received date. So of course, what’s always going to grab your attention first is the most recent thing that you need to do, not necessarily the most important.
Unfortunately, that thing that was sent a couple of weeks ago that probably needs some action right now is not getting your attention because it’s way down your list. I bet that in your inbox there are emails that have been there since day one.
Where you’re going wrong with your emails
So how deep do you go into this well of emails to find out what are the things that you need to do? I’m going to challenge the way that you think about emails. Because what you’re doing is spending your time processing and reprocessing what it is that you need to do. You’re essentially touching that email over and over again. You may have flagged or marked those emails as ‘unread’ so they stand out for you, however, you’re essentially mentally processing it every time you look at it as if it’s your list of things to do.
Every time you touch it is time wasted. What we want to do is to get to a point where our emails are somewhere else and we have a task list of things to do that are prioritized. In an ideal world, you know exactly what you need to do and when you need to do it. What is the number one thing that you need to do first? Cherry-picking and randomly putting out spot fires, looking at the one that’s most dangerous or burning the hottest are setting you up for failure.
Once you can adapt the way you process emails, you will find that you save an immense amount of processing time in your day. When people fully adopt the method that I utilise, they get two hours back from their working day. That is 10 hours a week they are getting back. If you look at that over a course of a year, that’s probably about 10-12 weeks of wasted time.
That is vital processing time that you are spending to look at what you need to do. Yes, there are other tools like Trello and Smartsheets. There is a whole range of project management tools. Although a risk with this is that you’re always looking at two things repeatedly in a cycle – emails, and then project management too, back and forth. Not disregarding these tools, but email has become such a driving force in the way we work. We now spend most of our working day watching, guarding and looking at emails. For most people, it is this habit that is determining the work that they are doing, rather than checking a ‘to-do list’ and going and doing the work.
Adapt to the digital culture
What you can do is utilise automation features. You can use different non-linear methods of managing your emails. All of us have been taught a typical method of dealing with emails. Now I ask you- who taught you how to manage your emails? Where did you first learn to do that? Do you even remember? Chances are you adopted a paper methodology and applied it to your emails. I’ve got a piece of paper here, it’s a letter. What do I do with it? Which folder in the filing cabinet am I going to put it into? That’s an archaic, linear process of managing your emails.
Now in the digital world, we can look at things from many different perspectives. I can look at this piece of information and ask myself what is the time frame for this? Is it urgent or not so urgent? Can it wait? How would I categorize it in terms of how I would like to find it? Would I categorize it by client, or would I categorize it by the project I’m currently working on? Maybe you want to be able to use this information at any point in time from any one of those perspectives. Why just choose one? In a digital space, we don’t have to anymore. We don’t have to put it in a folder. We can view things from many different perspectives. If you’re using numerous folders, you’re actually applying a very archaic and linear system to processing your emails.
QWERTY vs the Typewriter
Let me give you another example. Most of us use qwerty keywords. Now when they invented typewriters you probably remember there were keys that punched down to put the letters onto the piece of paper. When typewriters were first invented, the keys would cross over and jam. Anyone that’s used a typewriter can probably remember that process.
What the inventors of the typewriter found was that people were getting far too quick in punching out those keys to type properly. So they analysed how people punch in keys onto the paper. They discovered that if they separated the common letters that were often placed together in the English language and separated them the furthest distance away from each other, the typers would slow down, the keys wouldn’t get jammed.
This was how they developed the qwerty keyboard. We don’t use typewriters anymore but we still use the qwerty keyboard. We are still using this old system because that’s the way we’ve always done it
So why are you doing that with your emails? Why are you applying a paper, linear technology to the way that you’re dealing with emails? I challenge you to challenge the way you think. Go to a new paradigm and you’ll save up to two hours of your working day. What would you do with those two hours? I would love to hear your thoughts on this. If you would like to know more about that methodology please comment below.
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