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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 October 15, 2019

Is Procrastination Bad? The Truth About Procrastination Revealed

Is Procrastination Bad? The Truth About Procrastination Revealed

Procrastination is very literally the opposite of productivity. To produce something is to pull it forward, while to procrastinate is to push it forward — to tomorrow, to next week, or ultimately to never.

Procrastination fills us with shame — we curse ourselves for our laziness, our inability to focus on the task at hand, our tendency to be easily led into easier and more immediate gratifications. And with good reason: for the most part, time spent procrastinating is time spent not doing things that are, in some way or other, important to us.

There is a positive side to procrastination, but it’s important not to confuse procrastination at its best with everyday garden-variety procrastination.

Sometimes — sometimes! — procrastination gives us the time we need to sort through a thorny issue or to generate ideas. In those rare instances, we should embrace procrastination — even as we push it away the rest of the time.

Why we procrastinate after all

We procrastinate for a number of reasons, some better than others. One reason we procrastinate is that, while we know what we want to do, we need time to let the ideas “ferment” before we are ready to sit down and put them into action.

Some might call this “creative faffing”; I call it, following copywriter Ray Del Savio’s lead, “concepting”.[1]

Whatever you choose to call it, it’s the time spent dreaming up what you want to say or do, weighing ideas in your mind, following false leads and tearing off on mental wild goose chases, and generally thinking things through.

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To the outside observer, concepting looks like… well, like nothing much at all. Maybe you’re leaning back in your chair, feet up, staring at the wall or ceiling, or laying in bed apparently dozing, or looking out over the skyline or feeding pigeons in the park or fiddling with the Japanese vinyl toys that stand watch over your desk.

If ideas are the lifeblood of your work, you have to make time for concepting, and you have to overcome the sensation— often overpowering in our work-obsessed culture — that faffing, however creative, is not work.

So, is procrastination bad?

Yes it is.

Don’t fool yourself into thinking that you’re “concepting” when in fact you’re just not sure what you’re supposed to be doing.

Spending an hour staring at the wall while thinking up the perfect tagline for a marketing campaign is creative faffing; staring at the wall for an hour because you don’t know how to come up with a tagline, or don’t know the product you’re marketing well enough to come up with one, is just wasting time.

Lack of definition is perhaps the biggest friend of your procrastination demons. When we’re not sure what to do — whether because we haven’t planned thoroughly enough, we haven’t specified the scope of what we hope to accomplish in the immediate present, or we lack important information, skills, or resources to get the job done.

It’s easy to get distracted or to trick ourselves into spinning our wheels doing nothing. It takes our mind off the uncomfortable sensation of failing to make progress on something important.

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The answer to this is in planning and scheduling. Rather than giving yourself an unspecified length of time to perform an unspecified task (“Let’s see, I guess I’ll work on that spreadsheet for a while”) give yourself a limited amount of time to work on a clearly defined task (“Now I’ll enter the figures from last months sales report into the spreadsheet for an hour”).

Giving yourself a deadline, even an artificial one, helps build a sense of urgency and also offers the promise of time to “screw around” later, once more important things are done.

For larger projects, planning plays a huge role in whether or not you’ll spend too much time procrastinating to reach the end reasonably quickly.

A good plan not only lists the steps you have to take to reach the end, but takes into account the resources, knowledge and inputs from other people you’re going to need to perform those steps.

Instead of futzing around doing nothing because you don’t have last month’s sales report, getting the report should be a step in the project.

Otherwise, you’ll spend time cooling your heels, justifying your lack of action as necessary: you aren’t wasting time because you want to, but because you have to.

How bad procrastination can be

Our mind can often trick us into procrastinating, often to the point that we don’t realize we’re procrastinating at all.

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After all, we have lots and lots of things to do; if we’re working on something, aren’t we being productive – even if the one big thing we need to work on doesn’t get done?

One way this plays out is that we scan our to-do list, skipping over the big challenging projects in favor of the short, easy projects. At the end of the day, we feel very productive: we’ve crossed twelve things off our list!

That big project we didn’t work on gets put onto the next day’s list, and when the same thing happens, it gets moved forward again. And again.

Big tasks often present us with the problem above – we aren’t sure what to do exactly, so we look for other ways to occupy ourselves.

In many cases too, big tasks aren’t really tasks at all; they’re aggregates of many smaller tasks. If something’s sitting on your list for a long time, each day getting skipped over in favor of more immediately doable tasks, it’s probably not very well thought out.

You’re actively resisting it because you don’t really know what it is. Try to break it down into a set of small tasks, something more like the tasks you are doing in place of the one big task you aren’t doing.

More consequences of procrastination can be found in this article:

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8 Dreadful Effects of Procrastination That Can Destroy Your Life

Procrastination, a technical failure

Procrastination is, more often than not, a sign of a technical failure, not a moral failure.

It’s not because we’re bad people that we procrastinate. Most times, procrastination serves as a symptom of something more fundamentally wrong with the tasks we’ve set ourselves.

It’s important to keep an eye on our procrastinating tendencies, to ask ourselves whenever we notice ourselves pushing things forward what it is about the task we’ve set ourselves that simply isn’t working for us.

Featured photo credit: chuttersnap via unsplash.com

Reference

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