Cut the Context Switch Out of Email

Email can mean a bunch of context switching if you’re not careful.

Allow me to illustrate. You get an email from Client 1, and of course just dive into addressing whatever they wanted. That could mean anything, from a bunch of research or some code or changes, to a PSD or writing some content.

Then you send off the work and return to your email. There will be a few messages in your inbox that can be answered quickly then you’ll hit another one that initiates another context switch.

This is the big one — the costly one — because it switches you away from processing your email.

2-minute rule

A rule in Getting Things Done (Amazon.ca) is that if a given task takes less than two minutes you should just do it. In that case the cost of processing it for later will take longer than just addressing it immediately.

The big problem most people have here is that they don’t actually have any idea how long a task will take. Sure, you figure a task will take less than 2 minutes, but if you were to track your time, you may realize it took 15 minutes to address a single email.

My rule is that if any email is going to take more than 3-5 sentences to respond to, it goes into my system instead of getting done right away. When I’ve passed that along to people, this simple rule of thumb allows them to assess an email task more easily, by looking at how much text they’ll have to write instead of estimating how long a task will take.

My process

When I process email, all emails that can be responded to in 3-5 sentences get done right away.

Any email that’s going to take longer than that gets pushed off to Todoist. If I’m currently working on a project for a client and they email me something that’s going to take a bit, I set up the email to be responded to during their project time.

If it’s an email from a new prospect that’s going to take some thinking or research, I push it off to the time of the day (or maybe the next day) when I’m responding to new leads.

I strive for 24-hour response to all emails, but just because someone emails you doesn’t mean you are required to respond to them. And you’re certainly not required to respond to ANY email right away, so keep to your schedule.

Remember, email is mainly a way for other people to tell you what they think is important for you today. Check your email a few times a day and then just leave it. Plan your day the night before and don’t check your email until later in the day. I leave mine until just about the time I’m leaving for the day.

Your goal each day should be to accomplish the most important things on your list, not add to your list all day based on what other people think is important. If you allow other people to define what’s important, you will never really push your business forward.

photo credit: kwl cc

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