Can Getting More Email Improve Your Productivity?

Author: tracysigler | Posted: January 14th, 2013 | | Tags: , , , , | No Comments »

Email Space Invaders - Can Getting More Email Improve Your Productivity?(Photo by mistersnappy)

Maybe. This post is about using “sticks” instead of “carrots” to compel yourself to take care of business. This idea works for me, but if you don’t practice good email inbox hygiene then it most certainly will not work. In fact, it will just make you less productive, which is what most email does.

I’m not bashing people who leave hundreds or even thousands of emails in their inboxes. To me that does seems insane, and I would find it incredibly stressful (which is why this idea works for me). But I’ve known some very high-functioning people who never seem to delete or even just move emails to another folder.

I treat my inbox like a to-do list. While I strive for “inbox zero” the truth is I rarely get there. That said, I usually keep it to 20 or less by the end of the day. If there is some activity I want to make sure I do on a regular basis, a reminder in my inbox will certainly get my attention. More on that later.

First we need to make sure we’re getting as little email as possible before we add any to the pile.¬†Managing email in general is a very big topic but here are four quick tips that help me:

  1. Unsubscribe from everything. You don’t need whatever it is you’re getting. Use a feed reader or social media to keep up with your favorite bloggers etc. Consume information “just in time” (i.e. go look for it) instead of “just in case.”
  2. Use Boomerang¬†for Gmail. But not too much. In Getting Things Done author David Allen says to never put things back in the inbox. You wouldn’t do that with your postal mail so don’t do with email. There’s also an old expression “OHIO” for “only handle it once.” But Boomerang makes it easy to get an email you don’t need right now, delivered “just in time” when you do. I used to put any email that was going to take a lot of time to either read or respond to into a “Read/Review” folder, but I never would read or review them. Now, if I get something on Tuesday and don’t want to deal with it until Saturday, Boomerang to the rescue! My inbox is cleaner in the meantime. Read the rest of this entry »

The Productivity Solution – Intense Focus Sprints

Author: tracysigler | Posted: February 17th, 2011 | | Tags: , , , , | 3 Comments »

Do you prefer the “60 60 30” or “50 20 50”? The former “solution” is from Internet marketing super hero Eben Pagan and the latter from the “marketing philosopher” Dean Jackson. What am I talking about? These are simple, not always easy, methods of focusing your brain and your time to do the work that really matters – the hard thinking work that you will do anything to avoid, but no one else can do for you.

Manage your day like a series of sprints instead of a marathon and you’ll be much more effective. Set up your “sprints” as manageable one to two hour sessions of intense focus, no interruptions allowed. This is where those numbers come in. Pagan’s version of this entails 50 minutes on with a 10 minute break, twice, then a longer break, 30 minutes, where you might get a light meal or even take a nap, whatever works for you. The Dean Jackson version is similar, and in practice I prefer it. You start with the same 50 minutes, but take a 20 break, then another 50 minute jam session to finish your two hour block.

When you take your breaks, do NOT check email, voicemail, social media, etc. All of that stuff will only plant the seeds of distraction. In fact, I highly recommend that you avoid email until you’ve done at least one of these peak productivity blocks each day. I never check email first thing in the morning, because you can isolate yourself from people, email, and mobile phones, but your own thoughts can be harder to escape.

To paraphrase Dean Jackson “make time to play G.O.L.F. every morning.” Set yourself up for success. Start with a Goal, ideally you’ll have list of your top priorities to choose from. Create an Optimal Environment, a quiet clutter-free office or room helps. Limit Distractions by turning off your phone etc. Trust that in the Fixed Time Frame (two hours or so) that the world won’t end if you don’t reply to emails, phone calls, and people with questions.

The further into the day that you can impose your will the more successful you will become. Am I able to do this every day? No, but I always try, and invariably the days that I succeed are the days when we move the ball down the field.

Notes:

  1. For a much more detailed explanation of the “50 20 50 Solution” see this lecture by Dean Jackson.
  2. For a related discussion, see this article about office design by Tim Ferriss which includes pictures (see below) of his “Optimal Environment.”