Are you wondering how to increase your productivity? You are not alone.
The average business professional will send and receive between 50 and 200 email each day… or more… and IM (Instant Messaging) is quickly on the rise! If you try to manage your email and IM without a strategy, your concentration and your performance will suffer. That’s where a few Productivity Tips will be helpful.
1. Don’t Reply Each Email And IM As They Arrive
Trying to reply to each message as it arrives breaks your concentration on your important work and likely impedes your ability to meet your other important work objectives. Replying to each message as it lands also establishes an unrealistic (and in many cases unmanageable), customer service expectation.
Question: If your train your clients and co-workers to always expect an answer in 5 minutes, what will happen when you need an hour of focused concentration, get pulled into an hour-long meeting… or decide to have lunch?
Answer: If you suddenly make clients and co-workers wait more than 5 minutes for a response, their impression of your job performance (and your brand reputation), will suffer… only because you established unsustainable service expectations. They will also likely send a harsh message to your boss – which further hurts your reputation.
Getting to your year-end review and saying that you responded to 25,000 email within 5 minutes but missed your sales or service goals will not get you the raise, bonus or perhaps promotion you want.
2. Address Your Messages Wisely
Your email and IM frustrations are only part technology challenges – part of your challenge is a psychological impulse most of us have. What I mean is that you and I instinctively want to respond when someone asks us question – or even when given the opportunity to ‘add an opinion‘.
Solution 1: Stop asking. Too many of us add too many people to our To… and Cc… In a recent story, called Email: A psychological defence course, Tom Stafford explains four key psychological principles that hold us hostage to our email. If you Cc… people who don’t really need you will likely get their feedback… either too early or not at all.
Solution 2: Stop answering. You are likely being sent email you don’t need to reply to… so refocusing on a favourite Time Management habit I have is to ask, “Is this important work or busy work?” If it is busy work it gets moved to the bottom of my pile because I focus on the important work first.
By being very strategic about asking and answering, you will be able to decrease the number of email and IM that come to you… and decrease the incoming volume of your coworkers. You’ll be a productivity HERO!
3. Identify Times To Send Email / Receive Email
The next Productivity Tip that I recommend is to identify times to send / receive email. This tip means you’ll be able to be strategically responsible to your inbox (clients, service providers, co-workers), as well as your other job responsibilities.
I also try to only check once in the morning – more often in the afternoon. Why? Because I’m more creative in the morning – in fact most of us are (even if you don’t think you’re a morning person). Email responses don’t often require creativity… so, I use my creativity where it matters most – for strategic client work, customizing corporate training programs and writing.
If you are tempted to respond immediately you may wish to set your contact management system Send/Receive preferences to every two hours.
4. Use Email Contact Management Alarms, Filters and Folders
Setting up alarms for your top two or three clients (or your boss), so you ‘hear’ when a message arrives is a great solution and can lower your concern of missing an important information (all other email should arrive silently). This way, when you hear an alarm you can scan and prioritize your important message. If their email does need an immediate response then you should drop everything – otherwise get back to your strategy work (important work), and answer their message later.
Using filters or rules lets you automatically file email from each of your clients, suppliers or co-workers. You may wish to reduce your inbox clutter by creating a folder for all messages you are Cc…’d on so you can read these email later (Cc…’s should be FYI not Action items). Do the same for secondary email like newsletters, blog posts or Google Alerts. Read these messages during time you’ve previously set aside for this purpose.
Notice that the first three Productivity Tips are personal habits – not technical solutions. Only the fourth leans on technology to help you manage your valuable time and productivity. Business Productivity Tips will never let you down. Also, remember to always consider how your message will either enhance – or hurt your professional image and reputation of the organization you represent.
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