Note: I want to give a big shout out to Dan Markovitz, author of A Factory of One. It is an excellent book on how to gain efficiency in your personal work. Dan outlines things you can do in regards to email that will help with efficiency. While I have been doing almost all of the suggestions for a few years now, Dan did have one suggestion that was new to me and helped me with a problem I was having. I have implemented the suggestion and it works very well. I will point it out below.
On with the blog post.
We all want to improve our efficiency and free up time. In my personal work and in observation, one of the biggest culprits of causing inefficiencies is email. Here are three things I have done to help eliminate some of the distractions and inefficiencies email causes me.
1. Turn off Email Notifications: In Outlook, I have turned off all notifications of incoming email. Nothing popping up in the bottom corner showing a new email has arrived.
Result: When I am working on something I don’t catch the notification out the corner of my eye distracting me causing the back of my mind to have to know what the email was about. I stay focused on my work and can finish what I was doing.
On my phone, I have turned off the lights, sound and vibration of new email notification. There are two reasons: 1) if I am in a meeting and it is making noise or vibrating it is distracting me and others from the meeting and 2) if I am working at my desk is acts the same as the Outlook notification as it beeps or vibrates or flashes on my desk next to me.
Results: I am not distracted by incoming emails at all during meetings or while working at my desk.
2. Open Mail Software to Calendar: This was the new suggestion I found in Dan’s book. Thanks, Dan! When I open Outlook, it opens to my calendar. Not my Inbox! Most mornings, I have a quick email I thought of on the way into work that I have to send when I get in, but I was getting distracted by waiting email in my inbox. I might even forget to send the original email I went to write.
Results: I am able to send an email from the calendar view by selecting New Items –> Email Message from the menu at top. I always finish the email I intended to send out and I am not distracted by the other messages in my inbox. I don’t check email first thing in the morning and get off on the email tangent. I am able to complete something off my personal kanban board before checking email. I feel more productive and less distracted.
3. Use the 4D’s: I have been doing this for a few years, but never had a name for it until I read Dan’s book. When I decide I have time to process my emails I do one of four things: 1) Do it: reply back if it is a short reply or completed the action if it is less than 5 minutes, 2) Delegate it: delegate the work to someone that can help, 3) Designate it: for me this means if it is a larger task I add it to my personal kanban board or 4) Delete it: I have read it and don’t need it.
Results: My inbox is not cluttered with messages that I lose. I know what I have to process when I go into my inbox. I don’t loose track of requests made of me via email.
One last thing. Just because someone emails you doesn’t mean you have to read and respond immediately so don’t feel like you have to be hovering over your email waiting for it. If the person needs an immediate response, they can call. That is what a phone is for. We all have one in our pockets nowadays. Note: I do know some jobs require constant monitoring of email, like an order processor.
How have your improved your efficiency with your email practices?
Email is a great thing. To be able to send a message instantly for free (sort of…I know there are charges for connection and data plans) is amazing. Now we can get email anywhere we are on smartphones, tablets or any other device. But, just because we can get a message instantly and anywhere does not mean we have to read or answer the message instantly anywhere we are.
I hear a lot of people talk about spending too much time with email. Email is keeping them from getting value added work completed. I spent some time looking at my own email practices and found it is very easy to get distracted by email. It is more of a hindrance than a help at times.
How many of you have your email notification turned on, so when you get an email you get a sound, a box in the corner pops up, a light flashes on your smartphone, etc…? I had notifications on everywhere. Why do we have them on? Because we want to read and answer the email as quickly as possible. Why don’t we turn off all of these audio/visual notifications? What percent of the emails you receive truly need immediate attention?
I experimented and turned off all audio and visual notifications of email on my PC. I turned off the audio notification on my smartphone, but left on my flashing light (which I am thinking about turning off). Since doing this, I feel less stressed about answering email and the need to jump right on it. I find that I am more productive also. I am not switching between something I am working on and email constantly. The thing I am working on has my full attention. I concentrate on the work and get it done and then check email. I have found that ZERO of my emails need my immediate attention.
My next step is to only open email at certain times of the day. Currently, I open it whenever I feel like it. Will this help me become even more productive? I don’t know if it will, but I won’t improve if I don’t try.
If you are not in a role where email is critical (i.e. order processor receiving orders through email or something of the like), I challenge you to turn off your notifications and not read/answer emails as they come in.
As I look for ways to improve, I am inspired by other lean thinkers and bloggers. I see what they are trying and look to how that might work for me. I try and experiment with things in order to make my job easier and to feel more in control and organized.
I decided to start a series that will be based on what I have tried in order to make my work better. It may be small or large things and most likely it was an inspiration I got from someone else. I hope that by passing along what I have learned that it may inspire others the way others have inspired me.
At the end of August, Jamie Flinchbaugh posted a blog called “Stay Out of Your Inbox.” It is part of his First Steps Video Series. The point was most people come in to work and the first thing they do is start with e-mail and it gets them off on the fire fighting trail right away. The suggestion was to come in and do something that is value added first. Even it if is just 15 minutes, to get the day started off on a positive note.
I had inadvertently discovered this on occasion. If I had a meeting first thing in the morning and couldn’t get to my e-mail, I noticed how much I would get done in a day. It wasn’t until I saw Jamie’s post that I put 2 and 2 together. So over that last month, I have made a conscious effort to not start off in my inbox. I took a task that I needed to complete or some documents I needed to review and I did that before I even opened my e-mail. I did not open my e-mail anywhere from 30 -60 minutes after I got to work.
After a month of trying this out, I can say this is one improvement I plan to stick with. I was able to get meaningful work done and was pulled into less fires. Half the time, the fires were put out before I even saw the e-mail. This meant I spent more time on more important tasks while fires still got put out. At the end of the day, I felt like more got accomplished when I went home. I also found out how important most of my e-mail really wasn’t.
Thanks to Jamie for connecting the dots for me. I hope this can help others too.
Technology has helped us in so many ways. I know the perception is that lean thinkers do not like technology. That is not the case. We just like to be sure it supports our process and helps to eliminate waste.
With that in mind, has technology really helped us with waste in regards to information transfer? Especially, in a building? My observations say it has not in certain instances. It has just shifted the waste from one form to another.
Here is the example that caught my attention. Before email and transferring documents electronically we would have to send a paper copy through inter-office mail or mail it. During that transportation time, the sender would contact the recipient and let them know it was coming. The recipient was expecting it so when it arrived it would not sit very long before the value was added.
Now with email and notifications of a document being ready in a system, the recipient receives something immediately from the sender. It is so quick, the recipient may not be looking for it, know it was coming, or even be available when it arrives in the inbox. So now the work sits and waits and waits before the value is added. So the total time between activities is not much different than the old way.
I’m not saying email and technology is bad, I’m just wondering did we shift the waste from being transportation to waiting? Did we get to the root cause of why the waste even exists? What are your thoughts? I know it has helped, but how much? Am I completely off base with this?