So Happy Together: Task Apps and Email

Email smartphone

Email can easily get out of control for school leaders and anyone else who has a lot to deal with. Among the challenges email presents:

  • Anyone can email you
  • It’s easy for other people to create work for you
  • A single email can have several tasks embedded in it
  • The work that needs to be done to handle an email often isn’t stated very clearly
  • Emails are hard to organize in a useful way, so if you have more than a handful, you have little choice but to handle them in the order they showed up

The solution? Use a task app alongside your email app.

Task apps like Remember the Milk, Nozbe, ToDoist (my current favorite), and the dozens of others on the market can make a huge difference.

Old School: Outlook

We’ve known for a long time that we need to handle emails with task management in mind, and for more than a decade, Microsoft Outlook has included a task feature.

Drag an email to the Tasks bar in Outlook, and you’ll create a new task with the email attached. It’s not a bad system.

Unfortunately, in our newly mobile world, that’s not very helpful. I read 90% of my email on my phone first, and only open it on my computer if I need to.

The more I can handle it once and be done with it, the better, and that means I need a solution that works from my iPhone and iPad.

A New Approach for A Mobile World

It’s great to have apps for all the devices we use today, but what if some of those devices don’t give us full control?

What if you use a school computer that you can’t install software on? What if you use an iPhone, and 3rd-party apps can’t integrate with the email client?

Here’s my favorite feature of modern task apps like ToDoist: Email input.

Get an email, decide that it needs to go on your to-do list, and simply forward it to a special address that the app gives you.

The app’s servers will receive the email and put it in your task inbox. (And yes, your to-do list needs an inbox too!)

Even better, you can create a project and get a project-specific email address, so tasks can be forwarded straight into that project.

Where We Live

When we’re working at our computers—which, as school leaders, should only be a small part of the actual school day—where do we “live”?

For too many of us, it’s in our email inbox. Email will consume all of our time if we let it.

If instead we use a smart app like ToDoist to manage our tasks, email becomes simply a communication tool, and we can do the work in a better-designed task management environment.

What’s your favorite task app? How do you use it?

ToDoist Tutorials Coming Soon

This week, I’m filming a detailed set of tutorial videos on ToDoist for my GoingDigital series for members of the High-Performance Instructional Leadership Network. If you’re a member of the Network, expect to receive the first videos later this week.

Saving Emails in Evernote vs. Your Email App

A Network member emailed me to ask:

Why do you recommend filing emails in Evernote? I am wondering because I have tended to file in inbox folders.

This is a great question, because while I believe that Evernote is generally the best place to keep just about any kind of information, you want to make things as easy on yourself as possible.

Email isn’t our real job; it’s meta-work, and that means we need to set it up right, then let it get out of the way so we can focus on our real work.

Is My Email Searchable?

If you’re using a system other than Google Apps for Education (the private-label version of Gmail), the search feature probably leaves something to be desired. Outlook is OK, but in my experience is fairly slow when searching through tens of thousands of messages.

Evernote’s search is top-notch—it searches inside of file attachments, and even the handwriting in photographs(!).

So if finding something later will be a concern, I’d recommend forwarding it to Evernote. This is easy because Evernote gives you an inbox email address—anything sent to this secret address will be saved to your Evernote account, so you can forward or BCC messages and have them saved.

To find your Evernote email address, look in your account settings. It’ll be something like yourname.123@m.evernote.com.

Evernote

Do I Regularly Run Out of Space, and Are My Messages Backed Up?

You may need to periodically drag messages to an offline folder to free up space in your account, especially if you use anything other than Google Apps for Education (though you can do this in Gmail too—which might be a good idea if you’ll be leaving your employer and want to take your emails with you).

With Evernote Premium, you get 2GB of new uploads per month, and there’s no actual storage limit.

Am I Going To Remember I Have Emails About This?

There are a few categories of messages I’d always forward to Evernote:

  • Staff evaluation matters
  • Meeting notes
  • Special education issues

In each of these cases, my documentation is going to be a mix of emails and notes I’ve taken myself in Evernote. If I only have my personal notes in Evernote, I may not recall that I’ve also received emails about the topic, and vice-versa.

True, you can email your Evernote notes into your email account, but I’d rather have things in Evernote. That way, when I type in a teacher or student’s name, I see everything related to that person, regardless of whether it’s a document, an email, or notes I took in a meeting.

There are some things email is just not good at holding—for example, photographs of whiteboards that contain important notes, which are only searchable in Evernote—so that’s why I’d choose Evernote over email.

Will This Require More Decisions?

Whatever you choose to do, set yourself up to have to make as few repeated decisions as possible.

As a leader, your job demands that you make tons of important decisions every day, and each decision you make depletes your willpower a bit.

That’s why I detest filing, because it:

  • Requires tons of decisions
  • Never ends
  • Accomplishes almost nothing of value

So whatever you do, try to minimize the number of decisions you’ll have to make in the future—especially for routine things like saving email.

How To File Email

If you’re going to save email into folders, I recommend just saving it all into one giant folder, so there are no decisions to make about which folder a certain message should go in.

When you’re looking for something, the same thing applies—avoid trying to decide where the message probably is, and instead do a search.

Does It Make Sense To Me?

Ultimately, you have to do what makes the most sense to you, and will create the least friction in your workflow on a daily basis.

If you don’t have an Evernote account, it doesn’t hurt to get a free one.

Do you have a question about Evernote, email, or anything else productivity-related? Get in touch and I may be able to address it in a future article.

How to Handle “To Read” Emails

When we try to cram all of our email-handling into a narrow window of time, we may have a mismatch between our energy level and what our email requires of us.

When you’re fresh and ready to tackle the day, you want to take action. You want to be productive. You don’t want to spend your best hours of the day catching up on reading when there’s work to do.

How can we handle our “to read” emails—the ones that are truly worth reading, like the Marshall Memo—without burning our highest-output work time?

Reading Elsewhere

The biggest tip I can give you is this: Don’t do heavy reading in your email inbox.

Why? Because email is a communication tool, and heavy reading is an activity in its own right.

But creating a “to read” folder inside your email app isn’t going to work either…unless you develop the habit of checking that folder whenever you have some non-action time to read.

Developing the Habit

By non-action time, I mean time when you’re a bit lower on energy, or don’t want to get into actual work because you’re likely to be interrupted.

For me, this is when I’m standing in line at the post office, or waiting on someone, or just don’t want to get into anything I’m obligated to complete.

When these times roll around, I’ve developed the habit of instinctively getting out my iPhone and spending the time reading whatever’s waiting for me.

Clearing Your Inbox Faster with a PEEP

I highly recommend moving reading material to Evernote, simply by forwarding it to your special Evernote import address (available in your account settings menu). When we have a “Place for Everything and Everything in its Place” the process can really move.

Evernote

Create a “To Read” notebook, check this notebook when you have time to read, and move notes to a “Already Read” notebook as you finish them.

Taking Control of Your Inbox

This afternoon, I’m offering a workshop called Taking Control of Your Inbox. If your email inbox is out of control, I hope you’ll consider joining me to learn how to make better use of this powerful tool for your leadership.

Learn more here »

Why Zero Emails is a Good Goal for Your Inbox

Email is a communication medium. As my friend Dr. Frank Buck says in his presentations, you’d never take something out of your physical mailbox, look at it, then put it back in.

So why do we do this with email? Why do we let things linger there?

It comes down to not having PEEP: a Place for Everything and Everything in its Place.

We have tasks, decisions, junk, to-file, and all manner of other stuff in our inboxes, so we can never really get the empty.

But none of those emails belong in the inbox, and the more we perfect and use our PEEPs, the more we can actually attain the goal of an empty inbox.

But why should this be a goal? Don’t you have more important things to worry about?

The Power of Awareness

There’s tremendous value in being aware of everything you’re facing, even if it’s a bit overwhelming.

Airplane cockpit

Pilots have all those gauges in the cockpit for a reason: as a leader—of a flight or a school—you need information to make good decisions, and you need to be able to access that information easily.

As a school administrator, you have a wide range of issues, opportunities, crises, and information to deal with, and the first step is making a triage decision: Does this warrant further attention? If so, what should I do with it?

I certainly don’t want to have to keep track of everything in my head, which is why I have tools like my calendar, to-do list, and Evernote database.

But I don’t want those tools to hide information I haven’t seen yet, and the single point at which I should initially see and process that information is my email inbox.

From there, I can dispatch it to an archive folder, Evernote, my calendar, my Remember the Milk to-do list, or wherever else it may need to go.

But for this system to work, I can’t have a backlog. I can’t let the emails pile up in my inbox. I need to get them out quickly, so I can easily deal with whatever comes in next.

The inbox is a bin for collecting emails so it’s efficient for me to process them later. (This is what the CrackBerry addicts of 5 years ago got wrong: they were trying to deal with every email as it arrived, instead of letting things pile up a bit for more efficient batch-processing.)

So the goal needs to be this: an empty inbox, daily. It may not be possible to keep it empty for long, but that’s OK. If you’ve gone through everything and moved it to the right place, you can be clear on what’s on your plate and better able to respond to what happens next.

More importantly, you can proceed with your important-but-not-urgent work, knowing what’s on your plate that you’re not dealing with.

Taking Control of Your Inbox

Tomorrow, I’m offering a workshop called Taking Control of Your Inbox. If your email inbox is out of control, I hope you’ll consider joining me to learn how to make better use of this powerful tool for your leadership.

Learn more here »

I’m offering something unusual that I think will be very powerful: Over-the-shoulder coaching by video. Show me how you deal with your email, and I’ll give you high-impact pointers that will reduce your email time and increase your effectiveness. It’s included with your registration and completely confidential.

Does Some of Your Email Belong in Evernote? 4 Ways to Get It There

Email to evernote

You have lots of information that you need to keep for documentation purposes.

You know, just in case. The kind of information that you hope never comes up again, like that parent who was mad one day and filed a complaint with the state. Or the special education meeting that went south. You know what I mean.

Much of this information arrives via email, and even if it doesn’t, it’s very easy to use email to get it into your Evernote account, where it becomes a magical, searchable cloud of potential usefulness, instead of a pile labeled “to file” that never gets filed.

Here are 4 ways to get information into Evernote using its ability to accept email.

To get started, find your Evernote email address. Look in Account Settings (this has different names in various Evernote apps, but on the web you’ll see it here). It’ll be something like yourname.123@m.evernote.com.

Add this to your address book with a simple name like “Evernote” or even “EN” and you’re off to the races.

BCC Evernote on an Email You’re Sending

Use when: You’re emailing someone, and you want to make sure you have a copy for future reference, even if it gets deleted from your email or becomes hard to find.

Make sure you: Use BCC, not CC, or else the other person will wonder why you’re sending a confidential message to someone else.

Forward an Email to Evernote

Use when: You’ve received something that you want to keep…and it doesn’t belong in your inbox forever.

Make sure you: Clearly identify any action items, e.g. with a Reminder in Evernote.

Tip: You can make sure a reminder is added to a new note by adding ! to the end of the subject line. For example, an email with the subject “Pick up testing packet at district HQ !” will become a new note with that title, minus the exclamation point, and with a reminder. Add a due date like !tomorrow to set the reminder to a specific date.

Use Rules to Forward Messages to Evernote

Use when: You need to document everything from (or to) a specific person.

In your email program, you can set up rules to automatically forward messages to Evernote based on specific criteria.

For example, let’s say you have a certain parent who emails you daily with, shall we say, unreasonable messages, and you want to make sure you’re covered, without spending all day printing and filing.

Go into your email program (Gmail, Outlook, or whatever you use), and set up a rule (or filter) to automatically forward messages from that person to your Evernote email address. That way, everything is documented effortlessly.

Make sure you: BCC Evernote on your replies (unless you set a rule to run on outgoing messages too, which is a bit trickier).

Have Reports Emailed Directly to Evernote

Use when: You get automated reports sent from various data systems, such as your state or district, or web-based apps your school uses.

If you can, change the email address to which these reports are sent, so they go straight to your Evernote account and bypass your email inbox.

Make sure you: Check your Evernote inbox (or default notebook) frequently, in case other important notifications are sent to you via email.

Tip: If you can’t change the email address these reports are sent to, use a rule as I described above.

Get Started

If you don’t have an Evernote account, get one here.

Taking Control of Your Inbox

Next week, I’ll be offering a new workshop about email called Taking Control of Your Inbox, and one of the best ways to handle your email faster is to get less email in the first place—hence the article above. But I have more for you. Oh, so much more.

If you’re looking for the most powerful ways to stay on top of your email instead of letting it bury you, join me on Thursday, December 5 for this workshop. We’ll spend a jam-packed hour together live, and you’ll get a bunch more helpful resources electronically. I hope you can join me!

Interruptions as Useful Information

As school leaders, we tend to dislike interruptions. We want everyone, ourselves included, to stay focused and on track, and it’s annoying when that doesn’t happen.

Or is it?

There’s plenty of advice circulating about minimizing interruptions, such as turning off email notifications.

Woman checking phone

But I would suggest that at least some of this advice is misguided.

You see, interruptions aren’t just noise. They aren’t like litter in the hallways.

Interruptions are actually very important information for leaders, because they tell us about problems that haven’t been solved yet.

If you’re getting interrupted, that’s an opportunity to permanently solve a problem.

If your secretaries are constantly asking you how to handle parent inquiries, that’s an opportunity to empower them to respond on their own.

If you’re getting questions about an upcoming event, that’s an opportunity to communicate more clearly with everyone so people don’t have to ask individually.

Of course, I don’t want to be physically interrupted every time an email comes in. So for the love of all that’s decent, turn off those awful Outlook dings and phone buzzes. But it’s worth thinking about how often we should check our email.

Emails As Interruptions…Or Not

For the past year or so, I’ve had email push notifications sent to my iPhone. My phone doesn’t buzz when an email comes in, but a banner comes up on my lock screen, so I can see what emails have come in since last time I’ve used my phone.

The traditional advice is to turn off this type of notification, because it encourages “CrackBerry” behavior—dashing off a hasty reply rather than waiting for the right time and place to deal with the message.

But I like seeing my emails as they come in, because it helps me keep track of what’s on my plate. I can also use spare moments to delete anything I don’t need to see. And it gives my thoughts a chance to percolate, if I have any especially challenging emails to deal with.

As leaders, we deal with an ever-changing glob of priorities and emergencies. If we don’t know what’s in that glob, or if our information is 6 hours out of date, we can’t make good decisions about how to spend our time.

The High-Performance Triangle

How does the High Performance Triangle help us examine this issue?

Tool: Phone (or iPad) with email notifications turned on (but not vibrations or audible alerts). Here are my settings:

Gmail notifications

Strategy: Remain aware of what messages have arrived, in order to re-prioritize as needed and give yourself time to think about how to respond.

Habit: Check your phone whenever you want, but not with the goal of responding to messages right away. Delete the junk, read the FYIs, save the rest for when you’re back at your computer.

How does this idea sit with you?

Coming Soon

My next Network workshop is coming up on Tuesday, November 19:
Upgrading Your Calendar
I don’t have registration open for this workshop or the Network open at the moment…stay tuned.

Breaking A Bad Email Habit

Have you ever suddenly realized that a habit you’ve been practicing for years—YEARS—is unhelpful or even completely backwards?

Sometimes we just do the only thing we know, until we wake up one day and ask ourselves “Why am I doing this? Is there a better way?”

When it comes to how we typically handle email (and how I handle email if I’m not careful), the answer is “YES!”

The Wrong Way to Deal with Your Email

Open up your inbox…

Stare at it, shocked and overwhelmed…

Pick off the easy messages and deal with them…

Get tired, distracted, or interrupted…

Go deal with something else.

The result? Your inbox grows larger and larger, and the messages in it get tougher and tougher to deal with, because you’ve saved the worst for last. Forever.

Doesn’t sound like much of a plan, does it? Yet it’s totally normal. But there’s a better way to handle your email.

The Right Way

You’ll need an essential tool that a lot of people don’t think about when they’re handling email: your to-do list. If you don’t have a good to-do list app, I recommend Remember the Milk.

You’ll also need your calendar, so you can quickly check your availability and respond to meeting requests in your inbox.

With the right tools in place, the process is pretty simple:

  1. Open the first message in your email app full-screen (don’t even look at the inbox)
  2. Deal with the first message with some combination of these actions:
    • Reply/Forward
    • Archive/Delete/Unsubscribe
    • Add to to-do list & flag for follow-up*
    • Forward to Evernote for safekeeping if necessary
  3. Go on to the next message
  4. Get through every message so your inbox is empty
  5. Close your email program and go do something else!

It’s really that simple. If you can deal with the message on the spot, do it. If it’s more involved, add it to your to-do list.

Then comes the hard part: follow your to-do list. Trust it as the guide to how to spend your time.

* Don’t just use the Flag for Follow-Up feature, because these will tend to be your toughest messages to deal with, and they often don’t articulate what specific action is needed. Actually write the task on your to-do list, and you’ll have a better chance of getting it done soon.

What helps you maintain good email hygiene? Leave a comment and let me know.

Why You Should Avoid Your Inbox

Recently, I had a very busy day out of the office and came back to a huge pile of email. I had already filtered out some of the junk from my iPhone, so these were real messages that required some action on my part. I needed to get through it all quickly because I knew people were waiting on my replies, but I didn’t have much time that evening to spend on email.

Email

So here’s what I did: I didn’t look at my inbox at all. And I got through all of my email in short burst of productivity.

What happened? Why did this work?

You might think your inbox is the heart and soul of your email account. We spend a lot of time in our inboxes, but lately I’ve realized just how pointless it can be to stare at the long list of messages, scrolling up and down, looking for one to pick off and resolve.

Instead of going to your inbox and reading your email from the view that shows your entire inbox, try this:

  1. Open a single message in full-screen mode
  2. When you’re done with it, hit “next message” without going back to the inbox

How you do this will vary by email program, but it has an inevitable positive effect: You don’t see the list of messages you could potentially deal with. You just see the next message, and you can deal with it.

This is especially powerful if you practice two other email disciplines:

  • Keep a to-do list for off-email actions or those that will require more than two minutes to resolve
  • Filter your email throughout the day, so you avoid drifting into the “I’m tired, so I guess I’ll just check my email for a minute” trap

Try it just once and report back. How did it work for you?

Smart Habits for Email on Smartphones

Email smartphone

I used to check my email only at certain times of day, in the belief that I’d get more done if I limited email to a few narrow timeslots each day. For years, productivity experts have recommended that we not check email in the morning, and even set up auto responders telling people of our email practices.

Since I’ve been carrying an iPhone and iPad, though, I’ve found that I prefer to see new messages as they arrive, so I can filter out the junk in any spare moment.

No More CrackBerry
Using your smartphone to monitor and filter your email throughout the day is increasingly essential. This isn’t the same practice that became ridiculed among professionals as “CrackBerry addiction,” because I don’t answer most email from my phone.

If you try to answer all of your email from your phone, you’ll find that you end up with more email (because faster replies encourage additional replies), awkwardly terse and less productive exchanges, and more time sitting and typing on your phone when you could be otherwise engaged.

So I want to be clear that I’m not talking about obsessively answering every email from your phone the moment it arrives. Monitoring and filtering from your smartphone, though, has several benefits.

1. Clutter doesn’t accumulate.
When I sit down at my computer and open up my inbox, I can be confident that it’s not full of junk, and that the work represented there is worth doing.

2. I don’t waste valuable time “checking” my email.
Monitoring and filtering from my phone has let me get out of the habit of using the inbox on my computer as a low-energy, pick-and-click, non-work activity called “checking.” Checking email, as I tell people in my workshops, is not the same as doing work. Checking shouldn’t consume valuable get-stuff-done time at your desk. Separate the two in your mind, and you’ll find that your sit-and-work time is a lot more productive.

3. I know what’s going on in my world.
Imagine if a teacher stood at the front of the room and plugged his ears whenever he started teaching a lesson. Silly, right? Just as teachers need to know what’s going on in their classrooms—not just on the chalkboard—school leaders need to maintain an awareness of what’s happening around the school even if they aren’t presently involved in it. This doesn’t mean we read email when we should be engaging with the people around us, but it does mean using spare moments in the hallway here and there throughout the day to stay abreast of what’s coming in, so we can mentally prepare ourselves and reprioritize as needed.

4. I can deal with the tough stuff in person.
How many times have you received an email about something that really needs to be discussed face-to-face? Often staff members will email us because that’s the only reliable and timely way to get in touch, but these emails need to turn into person-to-person conversations, not stay in electronic form. When I’m monitoring my email from my phone, I can go and respond in person whenever I need to.

If you’ve resisted trying email on your phone, I’d say give it a shot for a few days, and see if it helps you get a better handle on your inbox and your work.

Snooze Your Email with NudgeMail

Your alarm clock has a snooze button, so why shouldn’t your email?

One of the difficulties with getting your inbox empty is that it inevitably has email in it that you aren’t ready to deal with yet – not because you’re lazy, but because the messages aren’t yet actionable. Assuming you have some other decent reminder to follow up, the email is just clutter until you’re able to act on it. Until then, it’d be better to have it out of sight.

Some examples of “snooze-able” emails:

  • The agenda for a meeting that isn’t until next week
  • A request you can’t fulfill at your kitchen table at 9PM – it’ll have to wait until you return to the office tomorrow
  • Information for a project that you’ve decided to work on later in the week
  • Something you want to read again in a month, such as an inspirational quote (here are a few I came across this week)

NudgeMail
NudgeMail is a new service that lets you do exactly what I just described. Forward a message to NudgeMail using an address like
tomorrow@nudgemail.com
and the service will send the message back to you tomorrow, or
2hours@nudgemail.com
to get the message sent back to you in two hours.

I’ve been looking for a service like this for a while – thanks to Scott McLeod for sharing the link.

NudgeMail is free and doesn’t even require a signup – simply visit their homepage for instructions. It will work from any device that can send email, such as a BlackBerry or iPhone.

A word on workflow: If you use NudgeMail as your to-do list system, you’ll get the workday equivalent of a lousy night’s sleep. In other words, don’t hit snooze on things you should just work on now. Be judicious in your use of services like NudgeMail, and make sure you have a decent to-do list system that lets you stay organized and aware of everything you have to work on.

Following Up on Emailed Requests

When you email someone to ask them to do something, how can you make sure they do it?

Ideally, the person you’re emailing is reliable and will do what you ask without you having to confirm. But in the shuffle of activity in schools and districts, this isn’t always the reality.

To ensure that you can easily follow up, it’s important to keep track of the sent message, separating it from all of your other sent messages (e.g. simple replies) that do not need follow-up. You can do this easily with a mail processing rule. If you use Microsoft Outlook, you can use the directions below step-by-step.

  1. Create a new folder (File -> New -> Folder) in Outlook (within your inbox). I’ll call this folder “Followup.”
  2. Create a new rule (Tools -> Rules & Alerts) as follows:
    From myself, applied to all messages except where my name is in the To or CC box. Here’s what this looks like at the end of the rules wizard:
    Outlook rule screenshot
  3. Save the rule and exit the wizard (don’t run the rule to old messages)

This will give you a to-do item, dated tomorrow, each time you BCC yourself on a message. Depending on your Outlook settings, this should give you a popup reminder to follow up the next day, which you can then postpone or check on, depending on whether you think enough time has passed.

To use the rule, just remember to BCC yourself whenever you are sending a message to someone that you want to track for follow-up, and remember to check the Followup folder regularly (or check your flagged actions), and delete/mark as complete when the items are complete.

Footnotes:

  • Regular readers will recall that I’m a Mac user, so I use Entourage rather than Outlook. I had to use a school computer to configure these rules, since Entourage 2008 is a somewhat anemic product. However, once the rules are set, they work fine in Entourage.
  • (Note that the last rule isn’t really necessary, but if you want to separate follow-up from things you are just emailing yourself, this is a good idea. I email myself non-follow up items all the time, e.g. from iPad apps, so I included the rule that ensures that only when I BCC myself does the message go in this folder.)
  • If you don’t use action flags in Outlook, you can leave out the “flag message for Follow Up Tomorrow” rule, and just check the folder manually, deleting messages when you’re satisfied that the action is complete.

The Power of an Empty Inbox

This past week was a busy one for me, and I fell behind on email. I checked messages as I could, and gave quick replies when I could, but I wasn’t keeping up. The iPad has a “badge” that shows how many unread messages you have, and it continued to climb. It wasn’t until Thursday night that I caught up on my emails, reaching the state that has come to be called Inbox Zero.

2009/365/86 Emptied Anticipation

Silicon Valley productivity guru Merlin Mann has a forthcoming book by that title, and the term pops up on Twitter frequently as inbox-conquerors share their victories.

But you may be wondering what all the fuss is. What’s wrong with saving a few emails for later? Here’s what I like about Inbox Zero.

1. Short-Term Goals
For me, Inbox Zero is a goal, and meeting it provides a tangible sense of accomplishment and an end point to a period of intense focus. In this line of work, you never get finished with everything, so it’s easy to stay in a perpetual state of overwhelm without milestones to mark your accomplishments.

2. Freedom to close email
We seem to have developed the idea that we need to keep our email program open all day, and need to check it constantly. This is not how email was designed to be used; it’s an asynchronous communication medium.

When you reach a milestone like Inbox Zero, you know you can justify spending time on other types of work, and make the email wait until later.

If you keep email open all day, Parkinson’s Law suggests that you will spend all day on email, and this is both unnecessary and unwise. Hit a milestone, shut it down, and come back to it later.

3. Awareness
The most stressful thing about having 100 or more unread emails is that you don’t know what’s in them, so you don’t know if any are extremely urgent and/or important. While it’s unhealthy to feel the need to check your messages every few minutes, it’s reasonable to assume that urgent and important messages will need your attention within a day or so.

When you regularly empty your inbox, you limit the total number of messages that you have received but are unaware of. It’s easier to comfortably focus on other work when you know your urgent emails will get the attention they need within a few hours. But this only works if the emails waiting for you aren’t already a few days old.

How to Get There
Achieving Inbox Zero isn’t very hard, but here are a few steps:

1. Get your to-do list ready. Some of your emails will require action you can’t do while sitting at your computer answering email. Put these tasks on your to-do list and flag the message for follow-up. If you receive certain information via email that you need to log (such as teacher lesson plans or newsletters), get your log ready so you can move quickly through your messages.

2. Use the two-minute rule (sometimes): if you can respond or deal with the email in less than two minutes, go ahead and do it. The idea is to avoid putting off tasks that you can do easily, because putting them on your to-do list and following up later is time-consuming.

If it’s the afternoon or evening and I have a large uninterrupted block of time to work on email, I don’t use this rule – because there won’t be a better time later to deal with the most time-consuming messages.

3. Start at the top and work your way through your messages from newest to oldest. Many messages are sent to multiple people, and there may have already been replies that you’ll need to see before responding intelligently. (If you use Gmail or another threaded email system, you won’t need to worry about this.)

4. Set a goal for the time by which you want to reach Inbox Zero. If you know you want to be done in 30 minutes, you won’t slow down or distract yourself.

Go for it – reach the bottom of your email inbox today and see how it feels.

Essential Email Tips for School Leaders

Essential Email Tips for School Leaders
Here’s my latest article: Essential Email Tips for School Leaders (PDF)

Quick Tips (Summary):

  1. Cut down on email by unsubscribing from mailing lists and setting expectations with others.
  2. Use your mobile phone to keep up with “FYI” messages that require no action or that you can deal with while out and about in your school; keep others marked as unread and deal with them on your computer.
  3. On your computer, read a message once and deal with it; if necessary, add a task to your to-do list rather than repeatedly marking it as unread.
  4. Use a text shortcut program to write commonly used phrases more quickly.
  5. Learn the keyboard shortcuts for your email application, and work on your typing speed.
  6. Only process your email once or twice a day; close your email program or turn off automatic downloading to avoid distractions.
  7. Don’t answer email immediately when it comes in; it’s meant to be asynchronous. Strive to answer within a day, but at a time that works for you.
  8. Save your email to your computer, and make it search-friendly by adding keywords to messages you think you might need to locate later.
  9. Don’t over-file or create elaborate rules – they only slow you down.
  10. Set the example in your school by using email to communicate more efficiently.

Read the full article

Image credit: Esparta Palma

Leadership Uses of Email

mailbox buildingIt’s easy for leaders who are deluged by email to see it only as a communication tool or even as a nuisance. What leadership actions can take place effectively over email?

I find myself using email to:

  • Delegate
  • Inform
  • Request
  • Monitor
  • Celebrate

You?

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