2 May 2013

Don’t Do Email First Thing In The Day

At all my face-to-face events I hand out a little card to participants. It has my contact information on one side but the true value is the list of ‘Eight Top Time Tips’ on the reverse side.

No. 8 on the list is ‘Don’t make email the first thing in the day’. This almost always gets questions from the audience as to why I suggest this.

Several reasons:

 The potential distraction factor (unless you’re very disciplined, or on tight time-lines)

 When you’re responding to/reacting to others’ emails, are you working on your priorities or are others directing your day? Of course some are highly important and/or urgent, but is that all you work on first thing?

 For many of us, the medium is addictive. You intend to take a quick look but it’s so easy to ‘just check these ones’.

Before you know it, an hour or two of your precious day has disappeared.

 If you don’t have an appointment first thing, the day seems to stretch ahead invitingly and a ‘few minutes’ checking the email seems like a nice easy momentum-creating activity. However, many of us find we’re much too easily side-tracked in following hyper-links on interesting items, reviewing blog posts …. and more. And then, before we know it, the end of the day shows up and we find ourselves saying ‘I’ll get to that big job tomorrow’.

Example:

I was speaking at ‘The Farmers’ Big Day Out’ in Masterton last week, hosted by Lawrence Field of Rural CA. Pita Alexander, a very popular conference presenter and Canterbury accountant, was at my ‘Getting A Grip on the Farm Office’ session. Here’s what he said about email:

‘I don’t look at my email until after 4pm. My PA keeps an eye on it through the day. She clears the rubbish and anything urgently needing my attention will have been brought to my attention. By the time I get to them there are rarely more than 8 emails left for me. I don’t leave work until I’ve dealt with them – but they haven’t sucked dry my productive time.’

I can hear some of you saying ‘all very well for him. He’s lucky to have a PA.’ No, it’s not luck. It’s a choice – and that’s a different topic.

Pita isn’t reacting to email. Instead he keeps control, staying focused on the work that brings in his income. He doesn’t allow email to drive his priorities. He manages it instead of being managed by it.

Some possible exceptions:

 If you work across time zones and need to review last night’s mail before you can start work

 If you’re in a customer-focused role that requires rapid response

 Or you’re the front-line administrator/support person for rapid response colleagues

 And of course, when you’ll be away from your computer for the rest of the day. A quick morning check gives peace-of-mind

Variations:

One of my clients checks his mail on his Smart Phone while he’s waiting to give his teenage son a ride to school. Others check whilst riding public transport to work.

Most of us won’t be tempted to get into a long response session on those small screens and keyboards. Mind at rest, we can then ignore email until later in the day.

Guidelines:

 Set yourself regular checking times, but not in your prime creative time.

 If you’ve got a big task that needs concentration, don’t go near your emails until you’ve had a solid burst of time on the big job.

 Treat checking the mail as a treat and a light break.

 Set a time limit and then turn the mail programme off when time’s up.

You Might Like To Try This:

Every now and then, have a non-email day. It won’t die from neglect. You might have a bit of catch-up the next day, but you’ve given your brain a chance to de-tox. Very good for the health! An increasing number of companies are instituting ‘Email-Free’ Days. I’ve also heard of ‘Email-Free Friday’.

Doesn’t the very sound of it seem like wonderful freedom!


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