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4 ways your email use hurts your productivity

4 ways your email use hurts your productivity

Email is a big part of most peoples lives. You use it to communicate with loved ones, get project updates from clients, send your clients promotions for your products any many other things.

With this heavy reliance on email it’s also become something of a whipping horse for being an ineffective tool. Email is not the problem, how you choose to use your email is the problem.

If you use your email in ineffective ways then of course it’s a terrible tool. A screwdriver makes a terrible hammer, but we don’t insist on using it as a hammer while lamenting how terrible it is at being a hammer.

Next time your complaining about email, make sure you’re not using it in these 4 ways that it should never be used.

1. It’s not a task manager

Your email is not a spot to collect a bunch of action items. It is not your task list.

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First off there is no real way to prioritize your emails, they don’t have ‘due’ dates and can’t easily be grouped in to projects.

Second you don’t control the things that come in to your inbox. Anyone can send you something that they feel is important for you to do and you then have to use brain capacity deciding what to do about that item.

Third you can’t assign an email to someone and then track how it’s going. Sure you can forward it, but do you see the updates between the other people on the email only when you want to see them? Nope you get grouped in with a CC and just get every update even when it has no importance to your day.

Instead of using your inbox as a collection spot for your tasks you need to use something like Todoist or OmniFocus to track them. If you’re on a team and task assignments need to change hands regularly then it’s time to look in to a more robust system like Redbooth or Basecamp.

When you sit down once ore twice a day deal with everything in your inbox by either replying to it right away or pushing it in to your task management system to be dealt with later. Once it’s in your task management system of choice you can give it priority and schedule it to be dealt with.

2. It’s not a file folder

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Yes search in some email providers is pretty good so you can find things fairly easily but your email is not a big file folder for you to store things.

First off, you can’t search inside attachments like a tool like Evernote can. Where Evernote allows you to search and find that text in the specific document email leaves you a long list of items with attachments you need to dig through to find the single thing you need.

Second you can’t efficiently organize all those assets, how do you include a hand written note that should go with the email. You could take a photo and email it to yourself but that just means it’s in with all the other clutter emails that really aren’t that important like the single ‘yes’ email which approved a change to a project.

Instead of keep all your documents in your email, use tools like Evernote to manage all your digital files. Use a project management tool like Basecamp to tie important documents with their projects.

3. It’s not a phone

The beauty of email is that it’s asynchronous so I can deal with an email when it’s good for me and you can deal with it when it’s good for you. We don’t have to negotiate a time to talk in the midst of our busy schedules.

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But text misses so much meaning and many times waiting for that response  holds up a real project with a real deadline. All too often our love of email means we never even think of picking up the phone so we have 22 emails over 5 days trying to clarify nuances which could have been clarified in a 2 minute phone call.

Use all the tools at your disposal to bring clarity to your work and that includes the phone. If you send more than 2 emails trying to clarify something it’s time to pick up the phone and have that 5 minute phone call to get things on track again.

4. Your email attempts consensus building

All to often things get put on hold because no clear action was provided in an email. To combat this it’s time to start making your emails short and actionable.

Pretend your asking someone a question that has 2 possible outcomes. Most emails would look something like this:

Hey Bob,

I was wondering if you liked A or B. Let me know.

That’s a terrible way for you to wait forever to move because Bob just doesn’t deal with his email quickly. Instead write it like this.

Hey Bob,

I was wondering if you liked A or B. I think A is the way to go and unless I hear back from you in 2 days that’s what we will do.

Now you’re not stuck waiting for Bob, you’ve told him that in 2 days you’re going with option A. If Bob doesn’t get back to you in 2 days go ahead and do it.

If you really do need Bob to weigh in don’t send that email, call Bob and take 5 minutes to hash it out then move forward.

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If you can stop using your email in these 4 terrible ways you’ll find pretty quickly that email isn’t that bad. You just needed to use it for the right job.

Featured photo credit: Rolands Lakis via flickr.com

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Last Updated on July 21, 2021

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

No matter how well you set up your todo list and calendar, you aren’t going to get things done unless you have a reliable way of reminding yourself to actually do them.

Anyone who’s spent an hour writing up the perfect grocery list only to realize at the store that they forgot to bring the list understands the importance of reminders.

Reminders of some sort or another are what turn a collection of paper goods or web services into what David Allen calls a “trusted system.”[1]

A lot of people resist getting better organized. No matter what kind of chaotic mess, their lives are on a day-to-day basis because they know themselves well enough to know that there’s after all that work they’ll probably forget to take their lists with them when it matters most.

Fortunately, there are ways to make sure we remember to check our lists — and to remember to do the things we need to do, whether they’re on a list or not.

In most cases, we need a lot of pushing at first, for example by making a reminder, but eventually we build up enough momentum that doing what needs doing becomes a habit — not an exception.

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From Creating Reminders to Building Habits

A habit is any act we engage in automatically without thinking about it.

For example, when you brush your teeth, you don’t have to think about every single step from start to finish; once you stagger up to the sink, habit takes over (and, really, habit got you to the sink in the first place) and you find yourself putting toothpaste on your toothbrush, putting the toothbrush in your mouth (and never your ear!), spitting, rinsing, and so on without any conscious effort at all.

This is a good thing because if you’re anything like me, you’re not even capable of conscious thought when you’re brushing your teeth.

The good news is you already have a whole set of productivity habits you’ve built up over the course of your life. The bad news is, a lot of them aren’t very good habits.

That quick game Frogger to “loosen you up” before you get working, that always ends up being 6 hours of Frogger –– that’s a habit. And as you know, habits like that can be hard to break — which is one of the reasons why habits are so important in the first place.

Once you’ve replaced an unproductive habit with a more productive one, the new habit will be just as hard to break as the old one was. Getting there, though, can be a chore!

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The old saw about anything you do for 21 days becoming a habit has been pretty much discredited, but there is a kernel of truth there — anything you do long enough becomes an ingrained behavior, a habit. Some people pick up habits quickly, others over a longer time span, but eventually, the behaviors become automatic.

Building productive habits, then, is a matter of repeating a desired behavior over a long enough period of time that you start doing it without thinking.

But how do you remember to do that? And what about the things that don’t need to be habits — the one-off events, like taking your paycheck stubs to your mortgage banker or making a particular phone call?

The trick to reminding yourself often enough for something to become a habit, or just that one time that you need to do something, is to interrupt yourself in some way in a way that triggers the desired behavior.

The Wonderful Thing About Triggers — Reminders

A trigger is anything that you put “in your way” to remind you to do something. The best triggers are related in some way to the behavior you want to produce.

For instance, if you want to remember to take something to work that you wouldn’t normally take, you might place it in front of the door so you have to pick it up to get out of your house.

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But anything that catches your attention and reminds you to do something can be a trigger. An alarm clock or kitchen timer is a perfect example — when the bell rings, you know to wake up or take the quiche out of the oven. (Hopefully you remember which trigger goes with which behavior!)

If you want to instill a habit, the thing to do is to place a trigger in your path to remind you to do whatever it is you’re trying to make into a habit — and keep it there until you realize that you’ve already done the thing it’s supposed to remind you of.

For instance, a post-it saying “count your calories” placed on the refrigerator door (or maybe on your favorite sugary snack itself)  can help you remember that you’re supposed to be cutting back — until one day you realize that you don’t need to be reminded anymore.

These triggers all require a lot of forethought, though — you have to remember that you need to remember something in the first place.

For a lot of tasks, the best reminder is one that’s completely automated — you set it up and then forget about it, trusting the trigger to pop up when you need it.

How to Make a Reminder Works for You

Computers and ubiquity of mobile Internet-connected devices make it possible to set up automatic triggers for just about anything.

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Desktop software like Outlook will pop up reminders on your desktop screen, and most online services go an extra step and send reminders via email or SMS text message — just the thing to keep you on track. Sandy, for example, just does automatic reminders.

Automated reminders can help you build habits — but it can also help you remember things that are too important to be trusted even to habit. Diabetics who need to take their insulin, HIV patients whose medication must be taken at an exact time in a precise order, phone calls that have to be made exactly on time, and other crucial events require triggers even when the habit is already in place.

My advice is to set reminders for just about everything — have them sent to your mobile phone in some way (either through a built-in calendar or an online service that sends updates) so you never have to think about it — and never have to worry about forgetting.

Your weekly review is a good time to enter new reminders for the coming weeks or months. I simply don’t want to think about what I’m supposed to be doing; I want to be reminded so I can think just about actually doing it.

I tend to use my calendar for reminders, mostly, though I do like Sandy quite a bit.

More on Building Habits

Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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Reference

[1] Getting Things Done: Trusted System

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