Action and Email Don’t Mix

Reactionary Workflow – reacting to what’s coming in rather than being proactive. It’s a new term but a familiar feeling… and it sure did resonate with me.

Being constantly connected means that it’s really easy for people to contact us. As a consequence, our ability to prioritize is crippled by the unending flow of communication. It has become harder to direct our work with intention. We’ve relinquished control over our focus.

One of my own personal focus areas last year was to be, well, more focused. What I found was that just focusing on being focused didn’t cut it. I needed tactics… and discipline.

Here are some things that I found useful:

  • Blocking out time for specific tasks, especially tasks related to developing my own business.
  • Turning off email for certain periods during the day – need I say more?
  • Taking time to create, rather than just responding to emails. Yes, I might be suggesting taking more time. Adding value to my communications has resulted in many benefits, especially in terms of relationship-building. Time well spent.
  • Reserving time for research and keeping up.

The number one tactic that has worked for me? I separated my action items from my email.

Rather than keeping actionable emails in my inbox, I now print them, or make note of them, or save the attachments… and then file the emails. That way I don’t have to stray into my inbox and get distracted when I’m in ‘action mode’. While it might be a just a tad more work, it improves the use of my time considerably.

Try to manage your action items in a space away from your email – whether through post-it notes, software apps, or paper TO-DO lists. This will allow you to prioritize and focus on the stuff you want (and need) to do, rather than reacting to whatever flows in.

Originally published in Work Better, Not Harder on February 17, 2011