Categorized | Blog

Why you’ll never get to the end of your to do list or have an empty inbox

My email Inbox is out of control… again.  So is my “to do” list… and if you saw the state of my home you wouldn’t be surprised that it’s in disarray as well!

I’m frequently asked by mentoring clients how they can take control of their Inbox and get more done each day.  It’s become the Holy Grail of business: how to manage ever increasing tasks and requests in an ever busy world.  And still have a life.  And my response is always the same: is it really that important to do so?

When I talk with executives I usually ask how they manage to get everything done.  And I’m unimpressed by the increasingly common response about spending the evening, at home after dinner, responding to emails and clearing the Inbox.  Last week a woman told me – victorious – that she’d spent 17 hours straight… from 7am til midnight on a weekend completely clearing her Inbox.  There were hundreds of them.  I was amazed, and also a little concerned for her.

Is this what life has become: an ongoing battle with a never-ending stream of virtual requests?

Personally I’ve decided I’m never going to win this battle, and I’m not going to give up my weekends trying.  But there are a few things I do that help me cope with the avalanche of emails without impinging even more on my precious personal time.  Perhaps they’ll work for you too:

1.    Get used to it.  There will always be too much to do, not enough time and people will always want more from you.  So it’s ok not to get everything done – in fact it’s normal and to be expected.  What matters is that you prioritise what’s most important – and re-prioritise on a daily basis – so you can focus your time effectively.
2.    Delegate more.  How effectively are you using your team?   They’re there to support you so why not nominate someone to attend meetings in your place, forward emails to your team for them to respond to and if you’re asking people to come back to you with information, nominate someone else to collect and collate the responses.
3.    Be realistic about what you can achieve and set realistic expectations about when you’ll get back to people.  If a deadline looks dodgy then flag it early and ask if it can be extended.  And if somethings not urgent, practice adding one extra day to self-imposed deadlines.  Often we expect more of ourselves than others do.
4.    Scan your inbox regularly so you know about urgent or important tasks that require your attention.  Decide quickly if if you need to deal with it then and there, or if you should schedule time to do it later.
5.    Be ruthless.  Unsubscribe from newsletters and mailings if you find they’re not hitting the mark for you and if you’re regularly cc’d on things that don’t require your input, ask the sender to leave you off future distribution lists.  Everyone has the same problem with email and they’ll understand your request.
6.    Get organised.  Simple tools can help with this – like setting up folders for managing incoming mail.  I use email folders and filters to quarantine e-newsletters, items that I’m cc’d on and anything I know won’t require my immediate response (such as confirmations), and for delegating tasks to my team.  It works a treat.
7.    Newest isn’t always best.  It seems at times that I’m attached to my iphone and my laptop… but I still find the simple things are best for managing my follow ups, reminders, meeting papers and projects.  I use a Moleskin week-to-a-page diary to slot in follow ups, a simple manilla folder system to manage all my meeting papers, and folders with plastic inserts for managing ongoing projects.

That’s just what works for me… but we’re a resourceful bunch so I’m sure we can expand on this list.  Post your comment about what works for you… the top 5 comments will receive a copy of Apprentice to Business Ace – your inside-out guide to personal branding.


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