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The Lost Art of Emailing: How Emailing Can Make Us More Productive and Efficient Again

The Lost Art of Emailing: How Emailing Can Make Us More Productive and Efficient Again
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Are you one of those people who see email as an annoyance and not a productivity tool? Do you see email as a barrier to getting things done? Then you are certainly not alone. Millions of people have grown to hate email because it piles up in a never-ending stream of messages, beeps and alerts. I see so many people with the alert bubble on their email app showing four figures. These people have simply given up on email and only respond to the emails they receive from their boss or most important customers. Instead they are turning to other communication tools such as Slack and Twist and quickly finding that rather than solving their problems, these apps just exasperates the

Why People Stop Using Email

The problem for most people is they have not learned how to manage their email, or if they do know how to manage their email, they do not practice those management methods on a daily basis. And like anything else, if you are not managing it, it soon descends into an unmanageable mess.

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Yet, email should never be seen in this way. Email is simply the best communications technology created in the last forty years or so. It allows us to communicate effortlessly with people on the other side of the world, it is real time and has allowed us the opportunity to be able to work from anywhere at any time. Email is quite possibly the best productivity tool there is.

How To Use Emails To Become More Productive Again

So, in the spirit of bringing email back into your life as a fundamental productivity tool you love using, here are five tips to get email working for you.

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1. Treat Your Inbox As a Collection Point

Your inbox is not a storage box. Your inbox is a place where new email is collected and then processed. In the days before email, when we received mail, we did not just look at the envelope, decide it was not important and stuff in back in the mailbox. We moved it somewhere. Our desk, the trash can or on the mantlepiece to be dealt with later. If you had stuffed the mail back into your mailbox, the mailman would have thought you rather weird. So don’t do that with email. When an email comes in, decide what needs to be done with it and move it to its appropriate place. Over time, you will get better at making these decisions and will soon find dealing with email is a breeze.

2. Set up a few basic folders

The emails we receive every day fall into a few very clear categories. There are emails that require you to do something, emails containing information, which requires no action from yourself except just read them sometime, and update emails that contain information you need to know about but need no action from yourself. So, the only folders you need are: “Action Today”, “Reference” and “Archive”. That’s it. Just three folders and you will have a place to put all your email and keep your inbox clean.

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3. Process them instead of just checking

Problems with email inboxes mount up when you ‘check’ email and not process it. Checking email is where most of the problems build up. If you look at an email in your inbox and do nothing with it, then your email problems will quickly mount up. Instead, when you go into your inbox, make a decision on each email about what it is and then move it to the right folder. If you need to do something with it, either do it right away and archive the email or if you do not have time, move it to your Action Today folder. It only takes a second or two to move an email, so get into the habit right now. Checking email means you are looking at an email and not making decisions about that email. That is such a waste of time. Look at the email once, make a decision what needs doing with the email to remove it from your inbox and do it.

4. Set up a separate email account for online purchases and promotions

Part of the reason we get so many emails is we happily give out our email address to anyone who asks for it. You wouldn’t give you private home address to any stranger who asks for it, so why do so many people give their email addresses out so readily? Instead, set up a webmail account with Gmail, Outlook or other company and use that for your online purchases, subscriptions and other stuff that requires an email address.

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Do not put this email address in your email app. I have an email address I only access through the web. It is not connected to my phone’s email app, nor is it connected to my computer’s email app. If I want to see what is in there, I log in via the web and check it. The only time I ever really check it is when I am waiting for a delivery, and once a week to read through the newsletters I subscribe to. For many people, this single trick will remove 50% of the email coming into their inboxes every day.

5. Write for the reader, not yourself

One reason so many people are constantly checking emails is they are waiting for a reply to an email. If you want a quick reply then you need to make it easy for the recipient to respond with the correct information. The structure for getting information quickly is “what and why”. When writing your email start with what you want — “Hi Nicola, could you send me a copy of last quarter’s sales figures?” — and, if necessary, in the next paragraph say why — “we need to finalise Q3’s accounts before the end of the month…” — What this does is allows the receiver to see exactly what you want from their notification screen and can quickly make a decision about responding to you. If you begin your email with a preamble about how good a weekend you had, and when you hope to see the recipient, your email is going to be at the bottom of the recipient’s priority list. Remember: what do you want? And why do you want it?

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By adopting these five simple tips, your relationship with email will change forever. You will quickly stop hating email, and your love affair will blossom again. Email will become a fountain of productivity and energy. You will know what needs doing and you will never miss an important email again.

Email is not the problem, it is how we manage email that is the problem. By taking a few simple steps to organise our email, we can focus less on creating an email mountain and more on the joys and wonder of email.

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Carl Pullein

Dedicated to helping people to achieve their maximum potential through better time management and productivity.

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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)
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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.

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Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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Reference

[1] Getting Things Done: Trusted System

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