One of the perks of being a Vanderbilt graduate (Go Dores!) is having access to a series of alumni network webinars that take place a few times a year and focus on better business practices across industries. My main motivation for joining a recent Time Management and Productivity webinar led by coach Jeremy Payne was to knowingly nod along to speaker Jeremy Payne’s tips while simultaneously avoiding completing an expense report. I was sure it would confirm that I’ve got time management down to a science. Spoiler alert: I learned a ton, but my greatest takeaway was that the secret villain in my workday is my inbox.

It’s no surprise that email is one of the activities that derails productivity and effects time management. Add in the use of your smart phone and the ability to instantaneously answer emails, no matter where we are – or what mental state we are in, making it a powerful but dangerous tool. But fear not! Jeremy had some great tips for taming the beast of your inbox and below are a few of my favorites from his presentation.

  • The idea that email is real work is FALSE. As a public relations professional, this was hard for me to accept but I see Jeremy’s point. We often get lost in our inboxes and count it as real productivity, instead of completing the more tedious and tangible tasks on our to-do list (like my expense report).
  • Our email habits are often self-created, not necessarily imposed by our companies or other organizations. Minimize the amount of time you spend in your inbox. Jeremy recommends setting a series of specific times to check email. For me, there are three times a day that work best: 8am for overnight communications from international clients, 1pm for touching base with our West Coast offices and 4pm for a final check before attempting to shut down email for the day. Its been tough, but I will say that a day filled with conference calls and meetings feels less daunting and more productive when practicing this method. I was able to more effectively use in-between pockets of time for writing, reviewing and pitching. CLOSE YOUR INBOX. The amount of time it costs you in productivity and transition is way too high and can often make you feel like this:

Image1

  • Start using this set of actions to help you get through your inbox as quickly as possible:
    • Open – unread emails in your inbox is really a trick, considering that you already read it
    • Delete (Spam/Thank yous/All office emails about free food in the Portland kitchen)
    • Delegate – does your response help the next person in the email chain move forward with action? If so, let them know how to do next steps.
    • Respond –if the response requires longer than two minutes to craft, leave it in your inbox or put it in a response folder for later.
    • Defer – do later, as there are no immediate time constraints
    • Do – if responding to the email can take less than 2 minutes, do it now, so you can delete.
  • Most email doesn’t usually require critical thinking – so don’t spend your high energy levels times of day on your inbox. Save it for when you have low peaks of energy and do real work during your most productive hours. I’m a morning person, so for me that means not getting sucked into email when I get to the office, but using that time to do review budgets, work on business plans and writing projects – items that require my highest amount of focus and largest chunks of uninterrupted time. On the flip side, the lowest energy time of the day for me is between 3-5pm, which means that my email checking time at 4pm is actually the most efficient way for me to plan my day.
  • Changes can appear drastic and dramatic without communicating to your team and clients about your changing email habits. For me, that meant letting my co-workers know times that I would be offline and if they needed something urgent they should be “old school” and call me or talk to me in person. For those of you born after the Saved by the Bell College Years, this antique method can sometimes be more effective (and quicker) than emailing back and forth about larger matters. If you need help learning about these things called telephones – print the image below and show it to co-workers – anyone who recognizes it can definitely help you.

Image2

I’ve been practicing these tips over the past few weeks and while it is super tough to change habits, I will say that it is definitely helping me do a better job focusing and completing more important tasks. Well, it is now 4pm so I need to go check email, but hopefully these tips are as helpful for you as they were for me. If you’ve got other tips on how to take back your inbox and work day, please leave them in the comments! I’d love to know what else is working for others out there.

Written by: Chandni Patel