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Death by email

everyone else's agenda for your time

In a coaching session today, one of the most frequent questions I find myself dealing with is "how to survive my email?"
The coachee is sitting across from me, voice strained with frustration, using language of confusion and anger and tightly contracted face and shoulders - I know I need to help! Yet who among us does not open our inbox with that sense of dread and having already failed before the day really got going?
The following is the method and tools that I have used successfully for many years now - indeed, I can remember when the Franklin-Covey system was in FiloFax format (as your Mum or your Dad...).
I digress... some of my focus here is that during my decade at Microsoft, we often considered that "scratching our own itch" meant that understanding, and mitigating the huge problem email had become was something we could and should do.
Many of these became familiar features of the email clients we use across many devices - threaded conversations, priority folders etc - but the single best piece of advice I ever heard on this subject is from my old boss who would say "remember James, email is everyone else's agenda for your time - only you can decide what is and what is not going to get on YOUR agenda". The second most useful thing is the advice to only touch a piece of email once. This practice really pushes you to deal with each piece decisively, and works well with a practice of scheduling email time that you stick to.
My advice is often that even if you do none of these, stop grazing on email - it teaches other people that their email is more important than your schedule and that you are "always on" - both dangerous for related reasons.
btw - a number of great resources that I have drawn on here - just one example Urgent Life vs Important

distinguishing between what’s urgent and what’s important is equally vital to productivity and efficiency.

To the uninitiated, it may not seem as though there is that much of a difference between the two, but, trust us, there is! Just because something is urgent, that doesn’t necessarily make it important - Stuart Ruthven

One question to ask yourself when deciding whether a task is important is to ask yourself whether not doing it would actively risk your strategy. If the answer is yes, then that task is extremely important.

Another way of looking at it is to think of it as the difference between being in responsive mode (when you focus on important tasks) and reactive mode (when you focus only on what’s urgent). 

It is harder than you might imagine to feel great about a day full of fire-fighting, reactive mode. In the short term you may well feel you have got a lot done - but longer term this does feel hollow and the true satisfaction comes from fire-prevention, responding and planing for future outcomes.

Business thinker Stephen Covey used Eisenhower’s principles in his bestselling book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.

There are essentially four squares in the matrix, as follows:

Eisenhower’s principles

Stephen Covey says the boxes can also be classified in this way:

  1. Do it now
  2. Decide when to do it
  3. Delegate
  4. Dump
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