How I got a real Performance Boost

Have you ever thought about how email influences your working day?

Here is how my days used to look a while ago. I would get to work about 8, make myself a cup of coffee and start reading my emails while eating a breakfast. My goal was to get my inbox to zero every single day. In theory, if I replied to every single email every day (or just get rid of it from my inbox) - I should never ever have to catch up and spend a lot of time on my email. However... something else started happening.

First of all... I started to spend about 2-3 hours in the morning replying to emails. If an email would be harder to reply - one that would require really thinking something through - I would procrastinate if I was not really in shape to handle it. And it would stay in the inbox distracting me all day long.

Second of all, when you get an email - you most likely will have some TODO items in there that you should do. My problem was that... if there was a task in the email or... an email gave me an idea about something - I would just start doing it. As long as it was going to take less than 5 minutes - that was great, but if it didn't... I would actually spend a lot of time doing something that was not a priority at the moment.

Also, if I read a stressful email in the morning - that was really affecting my attitude and getting things done was automatically becoming way harder that day.

So I have learned that Inbox Zero (or my interpretation of it) was actually hurting my productivity.

While I was on vacation, I started to read a book about productivity (I think it's been "Manage Your Day-To-Day: Build Your Routine, Find Your Focus & Sharpen Your Creative Mind", but I am not sure now. It's been a good book anyway) and it made me think about how I can improve my productivity and what changes I could make to how I handle email. I also got some inspiration from my business partner Joshua and here is what I came up with.

Categorize your email

Use filters to categorize / label your emails, so that you can decide which category you want to handle at the time. Processing one group / type of emails at the time will help you handle it faster and you won't get distracted with other messages so easily.

Use Gmail Inbox tabs

Google introduced Inbox tabs a while ago and I have to admit that it really helped me. It filters and categorizes emails for you automatically. Default tabs are: Primary, Social, Offers, Updates and Forums. If I don't have much time - I only process emails from Primary tab and quickly check Updates if there is anything I should know about / create TODO items from etc. The rest can wait. And Inbox Zero applies only to Primary tab. I still try to keep my email clean, but Gmail does some work for me.

Timebox email sessions

When I realized how much time I spend on email and how distracting it is for me - I decided that I am not going to spend more than 15 minutes a day on processing emails. I also scheduled it to be at 3 PM so that if there is anything I should talk to my employees about before they leave - I still can. But the main advantage of it being at 3 PM is that... there is not much of a day left that reading something could affect. So I could be proactive and plan my day in the morning and only do reactive work the last 60-90 minutes I am in the office.

Schedule one longer session once a week

15 minutes sounds like very little time. It is. And that's good. However, there are emails that require thinking something through - add thinking about it to your TODO list. And then... schedule one session a week to reply to those "harder" emails. Again - timebox it. It will help you manage stress caused by not replying to those important emails right away, because you know there will be time in your week that you will give them all attention they need.

Not replying to an email is not the end of the world

What we often fail to realize is that... In most cases - you don't need to reply right away. It may be nice to reply quickly and let somebody know when they can expect a reply. However... remember that your day need to be about you and your goals. And there is rarely something in your email that should have a priviledge of messing up your entire schedule.

Keep emails short and concise

If possible - keep your emails short. You already know how much time it sometimes takes you to read all of them and you probably wish someone kept it short. Do the same thing. If possible - limit your emails to maximum of 5 sentences and make sure you actually let somebody know what you want. If there is nothing you want from somebody or you can't describe it in 5 sentences - should you actually send that email? If you don't want anything specific - you are just going to waste somebody's time. If you can't describe it in 5 sentences - maybe email is not the best way to communicate it?

Do not reply to emails when you are stressed

If you got an email that stressed you out - do not reply right away. Schedule it for a longer session and by that time - you will calm down and your reply will either be more constructive / less emotional and there is a chance you won't reply at all. I made a mistake of sending an angry reply right away that only made the recipient angry with me, not treat me seriously and I often got an angry reply myself. And thus... spent even more time on email and in a bad mood. Take it easy!

Good luck!

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