When I was in my late twenties, my employer decided to offer a novel thing called ‘flex time’.
Work four 10-hour days and get the fifth day off. I took advantage of this because I wanted to use my free day to learn how to play golf.
I took my lessons, I practiced, I kept swinging and swinging and consistently kept hooking the ball. After a while frustration set in and things got a little ugly. I was frustrated and reduced to saying some unsavory(#$!!@%) things.
Rudy —my golf pro —was a man of infinite patience. He quietly watched and finally said ‘I really don’t know why you’re getting so mad at the ball. It’s just sitting there on the tee. It doesn’t move…but you do. You lift your head to see where you hit the ball before you hit it, so you’re pulling up and hooking the ball.’
At this point you’re probably saying this is a nice story but what’s it got to do with anything? In my mind, the analogy has a lot to do with managing email.
Email is just like the golf ball. It’s just sitting there. It doesn’t move.
There’s lots of frustration around email. The number of emails. The length of the emails. The number of attachments. The size of the distribution list. And as far as we know this won’t change any time soon. Short of asking for your name to be removed from distribution lists and making sure your spam filter is working, there is little you can do about all the daily incoming email.
It’s how you react to it that makes a difference in your performance, productivity and peace of mind.
So here are a few reminders on how to deal with email:
- Work on your priorities first. Break the habit of opening email first thing in the morning. Is it easy? No, because it’s become an ingrained habit. Is changing your approach effective? Yes because you get to the most important thing in your day first, without any other less important things clogging up the works.
- Turn off any external notices and sounds that let you know ‘you have mail’. Let’s face it. It’s a distraction. A welcomed distraction from work to see ‘what’s new’. Just remember that in the short-term, this distraction is costing you dearly in terms from your performance and peace of mind.
- Try not to check it every 2 minutes. If you’ve gotten into a habit of checking your phone or email every couple minutes, you’re truly letting valuable time slip right through your fingers. Checking email 3-4 times a day is enough. For example, 10am, 12pm, 2pm, and 4pm. The times in between checking it is when the work of your work gets done. And as with all communications, let your co-workers know your approach.
- Prioritize your communications. Prioritize instant messaging for only the most important people/things.
Remember your email is just sitting there. Focusing on what’s important and taking a swing at email only when you’re ready keeps you out of the rough, out of the sand and out of the water. You won’t go left, and you won’t go right but you’ll probably increase the odds of staying on course. Believe me, I know.