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Managing Emails

E-mails have probably overtaken the telephone now as the most dangerously effective of all Time Bandits. When it was first introduced, e-mail represented a huge opportunity for improved communication. It is now reached the point where far from being a communication tool it is simply a bandit of huge proportions. The problem with e-mail ties back into the point I made when I was talking about software training, and so many people simply do not know what the technology can do for them to help them manage their e-mail environment more effectively.

As with the telephone issue, there are some simple operational things that can be done to manage how and when you access e-mail. In addition, there are some "technical" solutions that can really help you control what hits your in box.

Simple operational things

  • Turn off the e-mail alert. New e mail is almost always more interesting than what you were doing, and allows you the opportunity to simply move away from what is important to answer something trivial, interesting and easy to do. Do not let it pop up as a distraction!  
  • Only answer e-mails during downtime. As with phone calls, batch and only respond outside of prime time and quiet time.  
  • If you have a staff, have somebody screen the e-mails for you in the same way that you would have screen on the telephone

Technical solutions to control your in box

  • Use spam filters and junk mail. I am not sure about white lists and ways to keep people from communicating with you, as you never know who may be interesting, and somebody that you really want to talk to. I have become a big fan of the outlook "junk e-mail" folder. I think that is wrongly named, but I am now using it as a place to put all the things that I might be interested in but really do not want to see during my prime time.
  • Use e-mail filtering rules. These are simple to set up in outlook, and I have been able to reduce the clutter in my inbox substantially as a result. For instance, I put all my newsletters so that they automatically go into a "newsletters" file, and I look at it during downtime on my timetable rather than the timetable of the person that sent it to me.
  • Set up multiple e-mail addresses, with all important mail going to one master address. In this way, you can filter by the address to which the e-mail was originally sent and eliminate those that you perceive to be junk.

The big danger with the e-mail rules is that you may miss important e-mails because they go to a folder that you simply overlook. The way to avoid this is to put the folders where you are automatically directing e-mail at the top of your list of e-mail folders, and there are two ways in which you can do this.

First, you can put specific folders in your "favorites" folder at the very top of your e-mail list. My "favorites" folder has junk mail along with "inbox", "sent" and "deleted", and I also put my "events" folder there. And that is the folder I used to put all of the e-mails regarding events which I'm considering attending or travel arrangements that I am making so that I can easily find them.

The e-mail hierarchy with these folders in place looks like this, and they are always in my face in a place where I do not overlook them (which is especially important in the case of the junk e-mail folder) and where I know that I can easily find them:

   

You will see that anything that has gone into these folders automatically shows the number of unopened items in parentheses after the title, and in that way I know if there are new e-mails are automatically gone into the folders that I have not yet looked at.

 

 

Immediately underneath the "Mail" is where the inbox folder reside. What I have found is that it is really important to put the folders where you have created rules so that they appear at the top of your list and have less chance of being overlooked.

In my case, I have created rules for folders relating to social networking and then a few other items as well. I get them to the top of the list by putting "AA" in front of them.

 

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Time Management Tips

  • When somebody interrupts you when you are busy, don't let them interrupt your train of thought. Ask them to come back and see you at a specific time – you may be surprised that they actually figure out the answer and don't come back to ask you.

  • Everybody has about three hours during the day when they are at their best. Figure out what your "Prime Time" is and then plan your day around it. Make sure that you dedicate that time to focus without interruptions on the activities that are of most value to you.

  • It is all too easy to waste time on phone calls. Keep an egg timer next to the phone to keep track of exactly how long you are talking. It will keep the time you are spending in the forefront of your mind and will help you handle the call more efficiently.

  • Never go to the bank to deposit checks, it is a Time Bandit way below your pay grade, and claiming it is therapeutic and gets you out of the office is deluding yourself. Send somebody else!  Better still, get a check scanning machine...and make sure the bank pays!

  • Organize your office so the door isn't in your immediate line of vision. The big payoff is that people can't appear at your door, hover, catch your eye and distract you. If you make it harder to interrupt you, people may figure out answers themselves rather than asking you.

  • When you have to give out an e-mail address to somebody who's going to send you things you don't want in your inbox, give them a special "junk" e-mail address. Then set up a rule so that everything to that address goes to a folder you review on your timetable.

  • When somebody interrupts you to ask you a question always reply with a question back. Ask them how they would deal with it, and make them think proactively rather than just relying on you. A good technique is to ask: "If I wasn't available today, what would you do?"

  • If your key customers expect you to answer the phone at all times, get an Internet phone line and give them a "VIP" phone number to call. Set it up with a unique ring on your system and you'll know that calls on that line are from your most important customers.

  • Most people have a “To Do” list to record the tasks they need to "Get Done", but it doesn't help identify what you shouldn't do yourself. For that you need a “To Don’t” list. Identify the culprits, put them on the list and defend your time by assigning them elsewhere. 

  • E-mails have overtaken the phone now as the most dangerously effective of all Time Bandits. Turn off your e mail alert and check your e-mail only four times a day....do it on your schedule not the schedule of the people who are interrupting your more productive work.

  • E-mails have overtaken the phone as the most dangerously effective of all time wasters. The worst thing is the e mail alert that pops up on your computer screen. Don't let other people interrupt you in this way and take back control of your time by turning the alert off

  • When somebody interrupts you while sitting at your desk, stand up. It changes the pace of the interaction and sends a message to the interrupter that they have invaded your time. The more you can send this message, the more effective you will become at protecting your time.

  • When somebody comes to you with an issue they should figure out themselves, don't allow yourself to relieve them of the burden and take it on yourself. Instead of saying "leave it with me" when this happens, say "never delegate upwards" and ask them for their solution.

  • Entrepreneurs wear so many of the hats in their business that many of the tasks they carry out are at a level way below the real value of their time. Are you working below your pay grade by not handing off menial tasks that should be done by others?

  • When you are hiring new employees, ask candidates about their time management abilities. The best employees are those that can prioritize their work and handle interruptions, so be sure to ask relevant questions to probe in those areas so that you hire somebody who has those skills.

  • Email has become a huge time-waster and taking control of your Inbox is becoming more critical than ever. The ideal state is only to have things in your Inbox that are important, urgent or time sensitive, and to put everything else automatically into folders using Rules governing what happens when they come in. I’ve been using Outlook Rules for a number of years to sort specific topics, but I recently came across a new rule that makes a dramatic difference.


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Most people have a “To Do” list to record the tasks they need to "Get Done", but it doesn't help identify what you shouldn't do yourself. For that you need a “To Don’t” list. Identify the culprits, put them on the list and defend your time by assigning them elsewhere.