6 reasons your email is driving you crazy…

Why is email so crazy? And what can we do?
Have you ever wondered why it feels like email is running your life, interrupting everything you do, and ruining your day?

Well, here are six reasons your email is driving you crazy:

  • You deal with people who think email is the same as instant messaging. You know the type – they send an email, and then send four additional emails in a hour wondering why you haven’t responded to the first one.
  • You deal with people who don’t know the difference between hitting reply and hitting reply all. So you get everyone’s responses to someone else’s question.
  • You have your computer or phone set to allow email to push through to you on a regular basis. So you are interrupted by every popup, beep, buzz signaling an incoming message.
  • You have 15,000 emails in your inbox and 5000 are marked unread. And you really think you are going to do something with them!
  • You subscribe to various newsletters or industry reports, which you really want to read, but you don’t have a sorting rule to divert them into their own folder. So, they are cluttering up your inbox, mixed in with action items and all the other messages.
  • You are unwilling to delete messages once you are done with them, because you might need to refer back to them later.

All of this adds up to an overwhelming amount of email – 80% of which is not important to your daily work (really). I read recently that the average business person is receiving the equivalent of a 250 page book in email every single day. Yikes!

But it is not hopeless. This is something you actually can control!

All you need is a simple process for your email, and then, of course – you need to follow it…

(c) 2011, Terry Monaghan

Want to use this article in your ezine or website? You can, as long as you include this complete blurb with it:
Consultant, coach, speaker, trainer and entrepreneur, Terry Monaghan, publishes Now What, an ezine for entrepreneurs and professionals who want to double their productivity, improve their performance, and have a life! If you’re ready to jump start your performance and your results, then get your free tips now at www.TimeTriage.com.

Is an empty inbox even possible?

Did you know that studies indicate most of us in business are spending up to 3 hours a day just trying to deal with incoming email? This time doesn’t include doing any of the work associated – just trying to get through the inbox. And if your email pushes through to your BlackBerry or iPhone it can be even worse!

3 hours a day equates to over 19-1/2 weeks a year – just trying to get through the inbox. No wonder it seems to be so overwhelming.

I don’t know about you, but I think this is just insane. I remember when I first heard those statistics. I realized that I was not spending any where near that amount of time dealing with my email, and I didn’t think I was the only one. I went on a hunt to identify what others were doing to manage this, and found we all had something in common.

It’s no big secret – we had all established a process and protocol that we use to manage our email. This process and protocol has just a few parts to it. And, if you implement even one of the steps, you will see an immediate result.

Here is my six step process:

  1. Establish protocols. When will you check your email? How quickly will you respond to incoming email? Make no mistake, if you don’t establish your own protocol, one will be established for you by default. The default is what we now have – 3 hours a day (or more) treating email as if it were some form of instant message, and allowing ourselves to be continually interrupted by incoming messages.
  2. Set up some rules to divert email you don’t need to see immediately. I have rules that move newsletters into reading folders, and other rules that move messages sent to a particular email account (yes, I have more than one) into its own folder. So what actually ends up in my inbox is already somewhat sorted.
  3. Turn off the feature that automatically checks for email every 5-10-15 minutes. (That is the push.) Instead, pull the email in to the inbox at the time you set to check your email.
  4. Turn off that shadow popup (or sound) that notifies you of new mail. Studies indicate we get interrupted, on average, every 6-8 minutes throughout the day. And, it takes us up to 10 minutes to re-focus on the task we were working on when the interruption occurred. That math doesn’t work! So, eliminate the interruption.
  5. Process your inbox systematically. I like to think of the inbox as a place where items land and the action is to sort. The inbox is not a place for things to live. The goal is an empty inbox at the end of each sort. Here are some sorting criteria that work well:
  • Read and delete (you don’t have to do anything else)
  • Read and respond (simple acknowledgment or one line response)
  • Read and schedule for future action (including delegating)
  • Read and file

I said six steps – so what is the last one? Stop treating email as if it were instant messaging. We have developed a culture that treats email as if it all required an instant response. Stop! You can put an automatic response on your email that alerts people to your rules and protocols. This will manage their expectations regarding when you will respond and can give them a way to contact you if something needs to be dealt with quicker. Trust me, they won’t get upset, and you won’t receive five more emails asking why you didn’t respond to the first one.

This is what you can expect: As I write this, I average around 250-300 incoming emails every day. I check the email generally twice a day – in the morning, and towards the end of the day. Each time, I spend no more than 30 minutes (and usually quite a bit less time) sorting, responding and scheduling action. Then, I turn it off till the next time.

A few years ago, I took a vacation to Ireland with my brother and sister. Every hotel we checked into had computer access. My brother and sister were checking their email every single day. I didn’t. I was on vacation. Instead, I had already scheduled my first day back as a catch up day. I came home to 894 new emails in the inbox (many others had been diverted). After two hours, every single one had been read, sorted, and scheduled appropriately. And I was caught up on what had been happening while I was away.

Give it a try. It works every single time.

(c) 2010, Terry Monaghan
Want to use this article in your ezine or website?
You can, as long as you include this complete blurb with it:
Consultant, coach, speaker, trainer and entrepreneur, Terry Monaghan, publishes Now What, a weekly ezine for entrepreneurs and professionals who want to double their productivity, improve their performance, and have a life! If you’re ready to jump start your performance and your results, then get your free tips now at www.TimeTriage.com.

Solutions to managing overwhelm

In my last post, I listed some of the major factors contributing to the pervasive sense of overwhelm most of us are struggling with. To review, some of the major factors were:

  • Looking for things
  • Your email
  • Interruptions
  • Meetings
  • Poorly defined processes

All of which was sucking up more than 100% of our time! And creating an unwinnable game in an unworkable environment.

So pick your head up off the desk. Below are some proven strategies to allow you to wrangle that overwhelm into a more manageable state.

What can we do?

So, what can we do? I am going to give you some simple solutions to address each of these areas. While they are simple, they are not necessarily easy to implement – but any one of them will produce a measurable result immediately!

Get organized

What can you do to reduce the time you spend looking for what you need (the document, the file, the phone number)? Get organized. Set up your physical space to work. Close your eyes and picture your primary work space. Got it? Good. Now, let me know – is it set up in such a way that it invites you in and allows you to get real work done? Or is it set up in such a way that it compels you to run screaming from the building? Or somewhere in between? The easiest way to do this is to work with someone else. Let’s face it – if you knew what to do to get organized, you would have already done it. And, I want to clear up one thing here – having a neat office does not necessarily mean you have an organized office. Some of the most organized people I know have untidy offices – but everything has a logic to it, and they can find what they need exactly when they need it.

Establish a process for dealing with your email

Set a specific time each day when you check your email. Turn off the function that pushes email to your computer or smart phone. When it is time to check, pull all the messages into the inbox.

Go through and sort everything in one pass. Don’t try to sort some and work on some – for now just sort. Some quick sort criteria –

  • read and delete (you don’t have to do anything else)
  • read and respond (simple acknowledgement or one line response)
  • read and schedule for future action (including delegating)
  • divert – create a rule to automatically sort it into a separate folder (newsletters, etc) that you can access as you have time

Shifting from checking your email every 3-7 minutes throughout the day to checking 2-3 times a day alone will free up two hours of time, on average, immediately!

Stop treating email as if it were a form of instant message!

Managing interruptions

Dan Kennedy says ‘if they can’t find you, they can’t interrupt you.’ Consider tackling your most important task of the day before you check your email, and your voicemail. Don’t be afraid to close your door (and put a sign on it if you need to) so you can focus on your work. The world won’t end if you let your phone calls go to voicemail. You can manage people’s expectations by recording a clear message letting callers know when you may be returning calls, or setting up an email auto-response that lets people know how often you will be reviewing messages – so you won’t get 6 messages asking why you haven’t responded to the first.

If you may only have 45 minutes of productive time in the day, why not get that 45 minutes in and your most important actions done first thing – before anyone has a chance to interrupt?

Meetings

What is the intended outcome of the meeting? Can it be accomplished with a phone call? If so, then do that and save yourself a lot of time. If you must have a meeting be certain there is a clearly stated outcome, an agenda and a firm starting and ending time. And create clear action items coming out of the meeting. A meeting that doesn’t produce action items was probably not necessary.

Ineffective processes

Don’t be afraid to ask ‘why’ when you find yourself wondering if the way something is being done makes sense. Why are we doing it this way? Is there a better, simpler way to get the same result? Are we using our technology to the fullest? Often, we are too involved in what we are doing to step back to see if there might be a better way. If you find yourself operating over top of a sense of frustration and anxiety, you may want to take a step back and look at what is being done and how it is being done to see if you can tell where it has fallen apart. An outside pair of eyes is great here, too.

In summary, the keys to managing overwhelm are taking back control in those areas that you actually can control. You can set boundaries. You can schedule your time. You can plan your work. You can establish processes and protocols for how things get done. And you can recognize that we have created an environment where it is just not possible for one person to get it all done. So, choose what you will focus on (and choose what’s most important to you), and move forward.

To your success!

Terry Monaghan

Want to use this article in your ezine or website?

You can, as long as you include this complete blurb with it:

Consultant, coach, speaker, trainer and entrepreneur, Terry Monaghan, publishes Now What a free weekly ezine for entrepreneurs and professionals who want to double their productivity, improve their performance, and have a life! If you’re ready to jump start your performance and your results then get your free tips now at www.TimeTriage.com.

Managing expectations (part 2)

In an earlier post, I was talking about managing interruptions.

The first step was to identify the interruptions (phone calls, email, drop ins, etc.).

Second was to identify the expectations (prompt response, things done on time, etc.).

Finally, identify the communication needed that would allow you to manage the expectations.

Managing the expectations of other people who would want or need to communicate with you throughout the day is a simple matter of communication.

Think back to the last voicemail you reached when you were calling a colleague. Did it say:

“Thanks for calling. I am away from my desk. Leave a message and I’ll get back to you.”

How useful is that message? How much confidence do you have in your call being returned. And when will it be returned anyway?

What if instead the message said something like:

“In order to keep to all my deadlines, I am not answering my phone right now. However, if you leave a complete message (including why you are calling), I will return all phone calls between 11-12 or 3-4.”

And you knew the person would actually do that? I don’t know about you, but I am more inclined to leave a message (and only one message) when I get a voicemail like that.

And it is the same issue for emails. If you have already set up your email protocols (and I hope you have), and you are not checking email all day long, then all that is needed is a simple auto-response letting people know when you will be checking and responding to your email.

Two simple steps to free you up to get more done. Worth a try?

Establishing Protocols – Why Bother?

One thing I find interesting in my research is the extent to which very successful people have established protocols for how they handle things.

For example, one organization may have a protocol that all routine emails are answered within one week, while another company may have a protocol that all emails receive a response within 24 or 48 hours. Or, this executive only checks email once or twice a day, and has set up an autoresponder letting people know that.

So, you could be working in an environment with some already-established protocols. But it is just as likely (especially if you are a relatively new entrepreneur) that you are operating without having established protocols for yourself.

What happens when you don’t have your own procedures established? You tend to spend a lot of time dealing with things as they come in throughout the day – allowing yourself to be interrupted every time you see new email come in, or every time the phone rings.

I just heard Tim Ferriss say ‘stop treating email as if it were IM’ – and I was struck by how often we do exactly that!

In the same interview he also said that the tools you choose to use to leverage your time should be for your own convenience, not the convenience of anyone else.

What would your protocols be if you were setting them up to leverage your time and if you were setting them up for your convenience?