“In fact, checking email is like everything else: a process. How you evaluate and handle (delete vs. archive vs. forward vs. respond) e-mail is just a series of questions you ask yourself, whether consciously or subconsciously.” -Tim Ferris, author of The 4-Hour Workweek, the #1 New York Times Bestseller and International Phenomenon.
In this post I will introduce a few approaches I have adopted and through which I have achieved clarity in my mind, an essential elements for not only work-life productivity but also effective e-mail processing in particular.
When it comes to stress-free processing and productivity, Getting Things Done provides an appealing system: the 4 D’s.
The 4 D’s Art of email processing
The whole idea is to get you to “inbox zero”
The whole idea is to get you to “inbox zero”. This helps you empty your head and attain a Mind Like Water state. It brings you calmness and peace and therefore enables you to not only respond more appropriately to your email but also your stuff, projects, thoughts and life.
4 D’s stand for Do it, Delegate it, Defer it, Dump it. Adopting this approach has several benefits. It clears and prevent pile-ups in your mailbox and brain. It kills procrastination. It allows you to get more done in less time. While processing your emails, ask yourself these questions…
Can I do it in five minutes or less? If your answer is yes, then do it immediately. If not, defer it! With the Outlook Tasks you can decide to defer it to any time later that’s more convenient and more effective for you, giving you time to finish your email organisation.
Or, should I delegate the task? It is more effective to delegate tasks in which others have expertise.
Finally, ask yourself can I dump it? Some things that come our way can be dumped right away. It’s FYI (For Your Information) type of email. It’s not something that must be done. It’s a time waster, or you just don’t need it in your life. So dump it.
IMPORTANT! Your decision needs to be made in five minutes or less so that you can get more done in less time.
How often should I check email?
This is a question that has been asked a lot especially by folks who take email organisation seriously to improve their work and life. It’s a legitimate question. The answer? Twice or less a day, advised Tim Ferris, author of The 4-Hour Workweek, the #1 New York Times Bestseller and International Phenomenon. He wrote, “E-mail is the largest single interruption in modern life. In a digital world, creating time therefore hinges on minimizing e-mail.”
“A day filled with shooting the breeze with employees, answering questions, staring at emails, checking social networks and chatting with colleagues won’t make you rich. It’ll make you busy.” -Scott Schepper, the author of How to Get Focused in our distraction-ridden society.
As of today I have decreased the number from 8-12 to 4-5 a day, the number of times with which I have been comfortable for several months. Checking email 4-5 times a day has so far very safe for me. If you would like to do only twice or even less a day, I suggest you take precautionary measures to tell people in your email circles. You can set an autoresponder and get it running for a week or two until you feel people in your circles have received the message. On how to write an acceptable message, I suggest you read Tim’s post on How to check email twice a day… or even once every 10 day.
Alternatively, you can add text to the end of each of your emails as part of your email signature that indicates your commitment. I would not recommend this, though. People would not bother to read your email signature unless they want to talk to you on the phone whose number usually could be found in there.
Never Check E-mail in the Morning is a book by Julie Morgenstern. She advises that checking email in the morning could give you a false sense of accomplishment when in reality you probably still have piles of paperwork, meetings and phone calls you need to get done.
I suggest that you work on your important task or project first thing in the morning. If you feel pressed, do that urgent thing first and then something important. Unless I fail to plan my day after processing my email the day before, I would finish my urgent and/or important task and project before I even open my Outlook program.
There are many other ways to process email. Whatever strategy you choose, ask yourself whether that can give you a Mind Like Water state for e-mail processing and productivity, get you to “inbox zero” in a short time and keep you focused on your priority matters.