Email and your focus

We’ve shifted from a society of artists and specialists to one that stares at digital pixels all day.

In April 2008, the New York Times published an article which uncovered that nearly a third of one’s work day is spent on irrelevant items and distractions such as email. What’s more, the Radicati Group found that the average person is on track to spend nearly half of their day staring at email.

Our innovation and information has quadrupled over the past century. But why hasn’t our value grown proportionally? If our innovation has sky-rocketed, why hasn’t our effectiveness sky-rocketed?

Looking at the late nineties and early twenty-first century, our innovation within the information realm outshines the industrial age. It’s absolutely staggering. The wealth of available information on demand, as well as our ability to communicate anytime, anywhere, is absolutely insane. Yet, amidst this firestorm of information innovation, we’ve lost touch with what truly adds value to the world, and what truly makes us different than computers. Our creator didn’t put us on earth to process inputs and spit out outputs. We are here to think, to shape, to give and to create.

The way we use email endangers our purpose. It threatens our potential to innovate and create art. Email constantly attacks your focus. For this reason, you must learn how to make email work for you.

Are you an email farmer or an email hunter?

Have you ever driven home from work, and wondered what you actually did that day? You question if you even did anything productive. You fear you were just busy with items that were good for one thing: keeping you busy.

We all go through the thought-process above every once in a while. However, the key centers on knowing when and how to correct this. A day filled with shooting the breeze with employees, answering questions, staring at emails, checking social networks and chatting with colleagues won’t make you rich. It’ll make you busy. There’s too much information flying at us, and in order to fulfill your purpose, you must learn to respectfully say no, and decline distraction.

Instead of using email like a farmer (maintain crops); we try and use email like a hunter (try and get business). Your goal should be to use email like a farmer, not a hunter.

Use life as the platform to hunt and bring in business, not email. In order to master the art of sifting through email, and not getting distracted by irrelevant items, we’ll first outline the nature of email itself. We’ll then outline an appropriate philosophy towards email and then show you the process of batching email.

The Nature of Email

Email is a radically different form of communication than any other form. It combines two elements that make it less personal than other forms of communication: 1. lack of time, and 2. lack of personality. Other forms of communication like meeting up with people, mailing somebody a letter or picking up the phone to call someone possesses at least one of those two elements. Email is instant. And with less time spent writing an email, also comes less meaning. Yet, this is fine–if you understand the nature of email, that is.

A person gets more meaning, and a bigger smile from a phone call than an email. Same goes for meeting in person. Why? Because you’ve invested actual time in delivering the message. Time is not only money; time is value. As you invest time with someone, you’re also investing value in that relationship.

Understanding these characteristics will help you to put your interpretation of email into perspective:

 1. Emails usually aren’t emergencies
Emails may be emergencies in the mind of the sender; but if you take a step back, an email message isn’t going to contain life or death information.

2. Bite-sized clarifications or confirmations
Email isn’t an appropriate medium for negotiating, agreeing on items or correcting term sheets. Not only does it take longer to read through the others response, you’ll also have to wait for him or her to get back to you. Unless they’re addicted to email, the lag time can get long, and annoying. After a certain point within an email thread, it’s wise to just pick up the phone & give the person a call.

3. Emails aren’t insightful
Emails are worse than reading a children’s book because at least children’s books contain words, and are proof-read. If you’re spending half your day staring at digital jargon, guess what you’ll end up spewing out to others throughout the day? Digital jargon.

Your Philosophy Towards Email

Your philosophy and attitude towards email determines how productive you are using email. There’s hundreds of tips out there that confuse things. Here’s the thing: Only your attitude can improve your email productivity.

Mastering email isn’t complex, and doesn’t warrant thousands of applications and books written about it. The key with leveraging email for productivity is first founded on your philosophy and attitude towards email itself. If you hate email, you’ll become more productive in using email.

3 Steps to Mastering Email Productivity

1. Set a schedule: In order to make this process work, you’ll need to clearly define two times per day when you’ll check email.

2. If you’ve left an item unread, you fail: Before outlining the principles of effective email use below, please understand that the key with avoiding procrastination centers on processing every single email, and taking a specific action with it. Choosing to not do anything will hurt your productivity. There are four actions that you must take when processing email:

  1. Delete 
  2. Delegate 
  3. Add to your to-do list 
  4. Do it now 

The action you must avoid is leaving item marked unread. If you’ve left an item unread, you fail. You’ve procrastinated.

3. The three questions
Below is the process that will allow you to conquer email, and make email a productive, swift time for getting things done.

That’s it. It’s simple, yet takes some practice to implement effectively.

Advanced Email Tools
You may find these tips obvious or common sense. They are. The philosophy above reassures the simplicity you thought email was all about. You’ll find that many of the philosophies outlined above are very similar in nature. In fact, whether you’re reading The Four Hour Work Week, Inbox Zero or Getting Things Done, you’ll find they all outline a similar philosophy. Why? Because it works.

Email and Focus [How to Get Focused]

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