In early 2004, my organization issued me a first generation Blackberry that I ditched six months later. Yesterday, I scrounged for it from my pile of junk, found it, and still couldn't determine its model number. It is one of those with monochrome LCDs. Anyway, I used that blackberry for what turned out to be the most miserable 6 months of my life.
It's as if I do not receive enough SMS and phone calls as it is. You add to that the tons of email notifications and you have a sure fire formula for chaos. Using the Blackberry, I have tried all sorts of methods to minimize my incoming email. The best method was to create a rule that you only receive emails from selected contacts. And, you use those rules in tandem with the SPAM filters available in most any email service provider. Still and all, push email made my life miserable due to the distractions that I got. Despite the fact that 95% of them are either trash, nice to know, or can wait till the next day, the few seconds it takes for you to read each one already cost you precious moments away from your current task.
And so, in the middle of 2004 I totally ditched my blackberry and swore that I will never again deal with anything that has push email. I have had smartphones with push email capability since; I just did not bother activating this service.
My Old Twice a Day Workflow
After the Blackberry, I developed the practice of checking my email only twice a day. I check my email once before lunch then again after 5 pm. Each time I check my email, I insure that I totally empty my INBOX. Here is how I do it:
- I let my fav email client, MS OUTLOOK, receive all my emails after manually clicking SEND/RECEIVE. Take note that I have turned off automatic download since this will only add to your distractions while working on your computer.
- I have set rules for certain emails to go directly to their designated folders. I have the following folders configured: FAMILY, BIZ/WORK, RECEIPTS, REFERENCE, Waiting FOR, and Project folders I am currently working on. Adding folders is a cinch and could be done by right clicking on the OUTLOOK INBOX folder. To create rules that will define where certain emails should go, just click on TOOLS and then RULES & ALERTS.
- Once OUTLOOK is done downloading, I start with the INBOX folder and work my way down to the last folder. Those that are unimportant are instantly deleted. I also make it a point to reply to all messages, but I limit my replies to a maximum of two sentences only.
- Those needing longer replies are either flagged for later processing (mostly in the evening of the same day) or delegated to someone in my staff with bcc to my WAITING FOR email address (this is another email address I created to store all emails needing follow-up).
- Those needing comments from head office are forwarded to the person concerned with bcc again to my WAITING FOR email address. I created this email address to remind me of all sent emails with pending replies. These emails are automatically moved inside my WAITING FOR folder during download.
- I do the same thing at night except this time, I insure that all flagged items are replied to.
I actually picked-up the use of the WAITING FOR email system from one of my favorite bloggers, Michael Hyatt. If you want a detailed step by step on how to set it up, just visit his site here.
Using this system, I have managed to keep my emails under control and my INBOX always empty. I only have to check my WAITING FOR folder to remind me of pending emails that need to be followed up. This system not only minimized my daily distractions but also allowed me to be more productive. All in all, this twice a day system requires me to devote about an hour to an hour and half a day for email stuff.
My Current Once A Day Workflow
With the coming of my new Mac Mini Carputer and with the use of iGoogle, I can now get away with 'working' on my emails only once a day. I now only do serious email work at night. I still use most of the steps described above except that I now also do some very minor email processing while on the road. With an always on broadband connection in the car, I could easily do some minor email processing (mostly deleting unimportant stuff) while stuck in traffic or at the parking lot. This is done from the main page of my iGoogle homepage without logging in to every email account. That way, when I finally start working on my emails at night, all that's left are those that require more action (i.e. replies, transfer to other folders, delegate, etc). With the addition of the carputer, I find myself devoting only 30 minutes per day on emails. The time saved I now use for blogging here.
I believe 30 minutes per day for email is good enough for most. But not for TIM FERRIS, the twenty nine year old author of the bestseller "4 Hour Work Week." In his book, FERRIS described how he gets away with checking his email only once a week. FERRIS uses an email notification system advising all his contacts of this practice and requesting that he be notified by phone for urgent emails.
Recently, in a meeting at the Department of Foreign Affairs, someone was bragging about his brand new Blackberry. He was asking everyone to email him directly since he now has a 24/7 access to his email. He even went to the extent of asking me to ditch my smartphone and get a blackberry instead. I just politely smiled at him, looked the other way, then said to myself - A blackberry huh? Yah, right. Not even if you give me this Ultimate Blackberry accessory for free.
If you are wondering why a Mac switcher insists on living in MS OUTLOOK, you can read about it here.