Email. I once liked you. Now you are a stream of ‘pass the buck’ communication, inappropriate ‘CC’s and straight up time wasting. In fact, email is the one thing I would give away in a heartbeat. For such a long while, email has been kicking my butt but I’ve think I’m gaining the upper hand. A technique I have used to take email down so that I don’t spend all day play email ping pong is batch emailing. I learned this technique from Shane Parish’s fantastic blog ‘Farnham Street‘
Set aside a half hour three times a day. In that half hour, you have two tasks, sort, and reply. The first task requires you to skim through your inbox and find the most important emails to respond to first. I always start from the bottom. In Outlook you have the ability to minimise Today, Yesterday, and any previous days of the current week and I use this feature so that I don’t get into the habit of instantly replying to email. I personally don’t think that there should be an expectation that an email is responded to immediately, no matter who it is from. Once you have located the emails, you have a few options to sort them from the rest. In Outlook, you can simply open all emails to full screen by double clicking on them. I prefer to use Trello to help me with my email sorting. I use the email to board functionality and I send all emails to my To-Do list board and they end up on my Email list. You can also drag/send emails to Outlook/Gmail folders as well. Whatever your preferred technique is, you are really only highlighting the emails that you must respond to. Give yourself a time limit with sorting. 5-10 minutes is ample. Don’t get edgy and start responding just yet. You are solely in the sorting phase.
Once you have sorted your emails and highlighted the ones you will respond to. It is time to respond. The emails that you have deemed unimportant are exactly that. Of your designated thirty minutes, you should have 20 minutes or so to just respond to emails. You can then get into a groove of reading and responding. No attention switching, no distractions, just read and respond. Set a timer for this so that you stick to your schedule. I use the Focus extension for Chrome to help me with this. Once the time is up, close your email client and work on your next big project. Channeling your focus on a particular element of the task is to keep attention residue to a minimum. Attention residue was a term devised by Sophie Leroy, a business-school professor at the University of Minnesota to explain the attention carryover a person has when they switch constantly between tasks. When you move from one task to another, some of your attention remains on the first task. This attention residue has been shown to impact a person’s ability to work productively on a future task. Keeping the switching between tasks to a minimum and bringing closure to the tasks when you are due to switch, helps keep the majority of focus on the task at hand. If you are sorting, spend the time sorting until that is finished. When you are responding, spend the time responding. This will make the half hour you devote three times a day much more productive and will free up your schedule to work on what Cal Newport calls ‘deep work’.