How do you deal with email overload and become an email productivity ninja? I have come across dozens of techniques. I have tried them all. Here is my top three:
1. Apply the two minute rule.
Your inbox is not your action list. In professional life, the ability to manage your inbox will usually give a huge boost to your productivity. Here’s a little trick: Apply the two-minute rule to all your incoming email; if you can do it within two minutes, do it now. Otherwise, schedule the action for a later time. Use an egg timer to ensure you stick to this rule. You will be surprised how many emails can suddenly be answered within two minutes.
2. Use CLEAR communication.
Your email competes with Facebook, the Stock Market, newspaper headlines, billboards on the road and the latest Twitter. Tough competition. If you want to be heard, make sure you bypass the mental filters of the receiver. Focus on making your communication crisp and relevant. This prevents dreadful long email strings. An excellent technique is to build your email content with the CLEAR model:
Context: why this communication is important to what your audience is currently doing.
List of resources required: money, people, time.
Expectations: what wild success looks like.
Activities: all actions needed for success.
Return: how the message benefits your audience.
3. Stay in the zone.
When you are interrupted from a task, research has shown it takes at least 10 minutes to refocus and continue. Here are three practical ways of using this knowledge to your advantage to boost personal productivity:
Single handle every email. Create the habit of dealing with an email until it is finished. Decide to do, defer or delete an email task, but never let it stay in your inbox. There is a huge difference between 95 percent ready and 100 percent ready.
Dedicate chunks of time in your calendar to work on your email. Your brain has a certain time span after which it needs a short break to function optimally. This time span is called the zone. While the zone is different for each individual, it usually varies between 1 and 1.5 hours. Find your zone and create your chunks of email ninja time accordingly.
Switch off the email notification icon and commit to checking your email only twice a day at fixed times. There is a case study of a company that programmed its email server to deliver emails only twice a day at 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., achieving a company-wide productivity boost of at least 10 percent by doing so.