Join Dave Crenshaw for an in-depth discussion in this video How to check email and still stay focused, part of Time Management Tips Weekly.
- In my course on time management fundamentals, I talk about the importance of processing your email. Processing is simply the act of deciding what the next step is, when you'll do it, and where its home is. Yet, in between those officially scheduled processing times, we also need to check our email, right? Maybe something urgent or immediate came in. So how do we handle that checking time but not get distracted because of it? First of all, you want to create a scheduled pattern for checking.
Now, many people are in the habit of getting notified the moment an email comes in or they're constantly hitting send and receive. Now we want just enough checking time. Even if you scheduled every hour on the hour to check email, that's better than constantly jumping in and out. Second, we want to disable "mark as read." Now, why would we do that? The "mark as read" feature is honestly a feature I wish didn't exist in email programs.
Why? Because when that email moves from bold to gray, it fools our mind into thinking that it was dealt with. Instead, we want to turn that off and use whether it's in or out of the inbox as the determining factor of whether or not it needs to be dealt with. There are lots of ways to do this. But for instance, in Outlook.com we could go into Settings, Options, Automatic Processing, Mark as Read, and select Don't automatically mark as read.
The other suggestion that I would make is to move the reading pane to the bottom of your screen. Why? Well, what it does is it limits the number of email that you see on your screen and also gives you quick access to seeing the reading pane for all of the email. If we have all of the email showing up, for instance, on the left side of the screen, it tempts us to multitask by jumping our view back and forth between 20 or 30 email. So again, we can do this many different ways in any email program.
But on Outlook.com, I would go to Settings, Options, Layout, Reading Pane, Show reading pane at bottom. And also, once I go back to my email program, I would drag that reading pane as high as possible again limiting how many email I see at the same time. Next, I recommend that you use flags or starring email but you do it in the opposite way of what many people do.
Most people think of flagging an email of saying "Hey, this is important." Instead, what I want you to do is flag email for saying "Ignore this now. "I checked it. "I don't need to deal with it "until my regularly scheduled processing time." That will allow you to ignore lots of emails when you do a quick scan during your checking time. Number five, be careful with links in emails, especially when you're just checking. It's very easy to click on a link, get yourself onto a new website or a social media platform, and the next thing you know, you've completely forgotten about all those email you were just checking.
So avoid clicking on them unless it's absolutely essential. And finally, six, during your regularly scheduled processing time, bring your email inbox to zero. The idea is to not have any email at the end of each week or at least at one point during the week. Then the rest of the time, we can quickly check the email and stay focused on the work at hand.
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- Reducing interruptions
- Dealing with feeling overwhelmed
- Responding to quick questions
- Making the most of meetings
- Following up
- Implementing a closed door, open calendar policy