Posted by: bevmeldrum | August 21, 2007

Working To Your Priorities – Not Everyone Else’s

Email is great – I can’t imagine my life without it anymore. Mobile phones are a lifesaver. Imagine if we had to go back to only using letters and landlines. I know for me I wouldn’t be able to get a fraction of what I usually get done in a day.

However, there is a downside to all of this convenience – we are constantly receiving requests for information and things we need to respond to. If you are like most people, and I certainly did this until recently, you constantly check your email.

My email was constantly on, and with my phone/pda having email as well wherever I was whenever I heard that beep I knew a new email had arrived for me. I admit that whenever I heard the new message alert I felt important – someone needed something from me. The number of alerts per day began to become important – the more alerts the more important I obviously was. I would pride myself in being able to respond quickly because I always had my email with me.

This was all well and good but what I didn’t realise was that each time I stopped what I was doing to respond to an email it would then take me a while to focus back on the task I was trying to do. Some days the emails and phonecalls became an irritation because I kept being interrupted.

After reading ‘The Four Hour Work Week’ by Timothy Ferris I was inspired to take a different tack. I now check emails just twice a day. I have switched off all of my message alerts and I have two calendar items – one at 11am and one at 4pm. I never check email first thing.

It took a bit of getting used to and I admit I occasionally sneak a peak at my inbox … but the benefits it has brought have been amazing.

At the beginning of each day I decide what my priorities for the day are going to be. I make a list of my top three priorities and I spend the day getting on with those. At 11am I check my email and phone messages and respond to them. Then I get back to the things that I have decided are the most important things for that day. At 4pm I check my email and phone messages again and respond to them, then for the rest of day it’s back to my list. If I complete my three things I write a list of the next three things and so on.

No more interupptions forcing me to lose my concentration. The only exception I make to this is phonecalls on my mobile. My answering phone has my mobile number on it and the message says that if your call is urgent and you can’t leave a message you can phone me on my mobile.

I had one client who was very skeptical about limiting the time they spent checking email. Emails in their line of work play a very important role. But they thought they would try it out, just for one day – they admitted later that they only agreed to it because they thought that they would prove me wrong. In particular they were concerned that their colleagues and clients would be less than impressed when they didn’t respond immediately.

What happened? On the chosen day he switched off his message alerts, including the ones on his blackberry, and set up two calendar appointments with reminders that they were the times he would check his email. He stuck to it that day checking his email just twice. The following day he asked his colleagues and clients – the ones that had sent emails the previous day how they felt about the delay in responding to their emails. The funny thing was that no-one had actually noticed – they just assumed he was in a meeting or was busy with other things.

Why not try it, just for one day and see what a different it makes to your day?  

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