Tip 13: Adopt Minimal Email Processing Rules

by Annie

in Fall Into Productivity

Image of bright fuchsia fall leaves against a black background with a text overlay that reads "#13 - adopt minimal email processing rules"

This is a post in Pajama Productivity’s first (hopefully) annual “Fall Into Productivity” month. (Clever wordplay, right? The llamas came up with that.) All month long in October 2016, we’ll be publishing lovely autumnal graphics with a fresh productivity tip each and every day. You can catch all the fall fun right here on the PJP blog, on our PJP Facebook page, or on Twitter @pjproductivity – use the #FallIntoProductivity hashtag to find all posts.

Day 13 is here, which means we’re on the verge of closing out our second week of the Fall Into Productivity event, which means it’s almost half over, which means I recall basic math from 2nd grade, so that’s something.

Today’s tip is a little more global than yesterday’s super-simple do-it-once task. Today, I want you to think big about email.

Also simple.

Think big and simple about email, is what I’m saying.

(I’m in a mood. I don’t know. Just go with it.)

What I mean is this: If you can create a system — a set of rules — for dealing with email that’s based on the principle of minimal handling, you’ll save time and increase your productivity.

What do I mean by minimal handling? Well, it includes things such as …

  • Only interact with email once. That means you don’t open it, read it, think about it, mark it unread, open it again a day later, draft a reply, save it, open it two days later, etc. Once. Open, reply, archive.
  • Only check and process email a few times a day. I do it at 9 AM, after lunch, and at 4:30 PM. Mail that comes in between those sessions waits until the next session.
  • If you need more time to reply, send an “in progress” email. Something like “Thanks for this information. I received your email and will reply more fully by tomorrow.”
  • Process attachments when you process the email it was attached to. That doesn’t mean you have to make the changes and resend immediately – in fact, you should not do that, and you’ll find out why next week. But you should download – and save it, set a reminder or schedule time to process it, what-have-you – while you’re doing the whole email thing. Not later.

Don’t forget the “rules” part of this tip, either. Rules are the key to making this thing work for you. You have to convince yourself that this (and not some other way) is just how you do things, and there’s no arguing with the rules.

Rules help you break free of the whole procrastination rat-trap, too.

Got it? Great. Now it’s time for lunch. (Then email!) Class dismissed, y’all!

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