Too Many Emails, Too Little Time
Time Management Tips for an Email-Filled World
Life seems to keep getting busier. What's ironic is that some of the technology developed to streamline our lives has actually become a source of our stress. Emails are the perfect example. If you feel you're devoting too much time and energy to your daily emails, we ask you to read on. Help is on the way.
Back with us for another sit down is the father and son team of Craig and Jason Womack, co-authors of The Promise Doctrine. For those unfamiliar with their literary contribution, we invite you to read their interview from our March 2010 issue. The article provides some important background, and outlines their book's main focus – how to succeed in your personal and professional lives by keeping your promises.
We began our latest conversation with the Womacks by asking WHY it seems that life has gotten so much busier. The two men were quick to chime in with their individual takes.
"Much of the research that went into The Promise Doctrine revealed many people are not aware of what, or how many things, they say yes to," claims Craig.
For many people, this carries the potential of agreeing to more than they can realistically accomplish. As these promises begin to pop up, especially in the form of electronic communications, life gets overwhelming and leaves many uncertain about where to begin.
The point is exacerbated when we come upon a busy time of year. While the weeks between Thanksgiving and New Year's Eve are one of the most common times people can overextend themselves, the Womacks reminds us we are in the midst of yet another busy season right now. With Mother's Day, Father's Day, graduations, proms, the end of the school year, and vacations, late spring and summertime can be just as overwhelming as the holiday season.
Jason, the consummate dissector of time-management issues, sees the subject as a three-horned beast. "Most people begin by mislabeling the problem," he explains, referring to the feeling of needing more time than what's allotted to accomplish their email tasks.
The second of his points is the unrealistic desire for many people to accomplish all of their priority emails on a daily basis. Last, but equally as important, would be the ongoing struggle for most to find a balance between their work and personal life.
If all of this wasn't enough, the technology itself has also gotten in our way. The Womacks feel that while the advancement of email has quickened our access to people, it has also increased our stimuli. According to Jason, having a system in place to manage the stimuli, as well as your response to it, is not enough.
"You have to ask yourself WHY you want a better reign on these types of communications," he explains, adding that if you merely streamline the process of emailing, you're only likely to increase your number of emails. An even more important question for the Womacks is, "What would you be doing if you weren't tied to the audible ‘ding' every time you receive an email?"
This is where The Promise Doctrine comes in handy, as it provides a very simple and usable method for establishing, maintaining and accomplishing our objectives. A combination of Craig and Jason's style of making things happen, the Womacks' system focuses on simplifying issues to their essence.
So, we asked the Womacks to do just that. Give us five ideas that will change how we view and use email in order to help us manage our electronic communications and use them effectively.
1. Use email templates
Start by reviewing your current email signature. In addition to your standard signature with your contact information, set up "ready-to-go" signatures that answer, provide and communicate the most important points you need to be making. In email systems such as Microsoft Outlook, it is possible to create "new" signatures (which always can include your contact info signature) so you can more quickly and completely provide the information you need to share, depending on the recipients.
For any messages you type repeatedly, consider making a new signature so that you always communicate information in the way you want to share it. Examples include: Links to website pages you want people to visit in the near term, answers to current Frequently Asked Questions, and the areas of focus you want your clients to know you are currently researching. Your traditional contact information will also be included at the bottom of this signature.
2. Generate agendas for the people you work with most often
Are you ready for the next conversation with a business associate or client? More than likely, the ideas you have will not always come to you at a convenient time. You'll think of something to tell them when they are gone, or you are not in the office, or you don't have access to email or your BlackBerry.
Consider creating a "to-do" for each person, group or event you'll share updates with over the next few weeks. When you remember or decide to tell those people something, simply add it to the "note" area of the task. Then, right before it's your turn to speak, review the notes and ensure you are prioritizing the most important things. This practice will cut down on the number of emails you send.
3. BCC yourself so nothing slips through your follow up list
Another time management tip is to BCC yourself on communications you know you will need to follow up on. Consider setting up a rule in your email system so that any email FROM you and TO you automatically goes to a "Follow Up" folder. This way, you need only look in one place to find what you're looking for when you're ready to follow up with someone.
4. Punch up subject lines – tell them what you want, by when
For maximum efficiency (and more timely responses) of email communication, consider focusing on these three actions: clarify, update, and change email subject lines. As you send email, especially if it is information that is time sensitive or action oriented, ensure the recipient understands this when they see the email in their inbox. A best practice of effective email collaboration: Place a verb at the front of the subject line. Then, use the body of the email to expand on and describe what needs to be done. About the worst thing you can do is to include no subject line at all in the emails you send.
5. Take time for focused concentration
Finally, during this busy time of year, you must delicately balance the work you do "in-between" scheduled tasks. Some of the emailing you have can be done in-between meetings, or while you're waiting on hold for a conference call to start. Other emails will require more focus, longer time periods and fewer distractions.
Buy a timer (an effective time management tool). Then, over the next week, decide once or twice a day to work on your emails non-stop and without distractions for small chunks of time. To start, set the timer for just 15 minutes. Do this over four or five sessions, and then debrief your experience to identify whether it was worth it to carve out those periods of "no-interruption" time.
No matter who you are or what you do for a living, email plays a role in your life. Instead of looking at it as a distraction, or something that takes up too much of your time, we suggest taking advantage of the technology. Effective communication with others makes it far too important not to do so.
The Promise Doctrine is available in the printed version, audio version (download or CD), and EPUB version on the Womacks' website, PromiseDoctrine.com. It is also available (in the printed version only) at Amazon.com.