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productivity hack #1 – email timer

From A Life Less Bullshit‘s email newsletter on March 1:

1. Set a timer when answering your email
I’ve read a lot of tips about how to best organize your inbox by using labels and folders and filters, and while I definitely think some of those techniques can be helpful, I’ve also found that solely focusing on email organization can mask the real problem. Buying pretty boxes to hold all of your clutter doesn’t actually help you de-clutter, you know? Especially considering that what I really want is to make email my bitch, which means that the first thing I do is treat it like a once-in-a-while task instead of an all-day ongoing activity. I mean, listen, I know myself well enough by now to admit that if my inbox is open and an email arrives, I’m going to read it. I might not respond to it, but I’m compelled to read it, which completely breaks my focus from whatever I was working on when the email popped up. So, instead of keeping my email open all day, I treat it like a task. Periodically throughout the day, I open my inbox and I set a timer on my phone for 30 minutes. Then, I start at the bottom of the inbox (aka the emails that have been there the longest) and I answer them, in the order they were received, as quickly and efficiently as possible. I don’t skip around from email to email, I just go straight up from bottom to top, answering and archiving each message, and when the timer goes off I close my inbox. Then, I do this same thing again a few hours later, on and on throughout the day. By batch-processing my email like this, I’m able to focus on my work when I’m working and I’m also able to respond to the email itself more efficiently with the motivation of the timer. It’s almost like a game now – how many emails can I answer in 30 minutes?! – and it’s really helped boost my productivity during non-email periods.

I keep hearing a lot about only checking email three times a day, and I’ve dabbled with this (and feel proud of myself when I can go until after lunchtime without checking personal email). However, my work email inbox keeps growing…and I find my planning periods sometimes get dominated by answering them. I like Nicole’s ideas for a 30 minute time limit and answering from bottom to top. She has also mentioned in another email newsletter to check email standing up. I’m going to try both strategies for a week each.

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