The Secret to Successfully Taming the Email Dragon

“Those who make the worst use of their time are the first to complain of its shortness”

– Jean de La Bruysre

How many times have you checked your email today? I’m guessing you’re in there constantly. 20 times, 30 times, 50 times? I’d venture to say that 99% of people out there are consistently checking their email. Many are managing their to do list via email.  I’ve been there – it’s no fun. Read through this and you can tame the email dragon. It’s simple and you can implement this RIGHT NOW!

Okay, drum roll please…….LOG OUT OF YOUR EMAIL NOW!!! You will be 10 times more productive. I’m not saying you can’t check in every once in a while. I’m in sales/service, so I need to check in quite often. That being said, when I’m checked out, I’m out. Test it. Start with 30 minutes. Move to an hour and see if you can lengthen it even more.

The key to this is setting a timer or an alarm somewhere. I simply do this in my calendar in Lotus Notes.

There are two key steps that I take:

1. Set a reminder to scan your email

I go no longer than 45 minutes b/c of the attention I need to give my clients. A simple scan may take 30 seconds and 90% of the time there’s nothing that can’t wait. Notice the 1st screen shot, where I have the “Scan Email” reminder set for 12:45pm. Once my alarm goes off and I finish the scan, I set a new reminder for 45 minutes later. This leads me to the second step.

2. Set a second reminder to batch process your email

Now, notice the second screen shot.  You will see a “Batch Process Email” reminder set for 1:30 pm (45 minutes later).  I usually have about 15-20 emails when I’m processing consistently throughout the day (every 90 minutes for batch processing). Most can be deleted, filed or responded to right away (under 2 minutes for the GTD folks). The one’s that no longer need attention will go on my action list or in my action folder for follow up.

So, two simple steps you can implement right now.  Give it a try.  You’ll be amazed at the results if you can build this into a consistent habit.

Additional Reading:

From GTD Times, by Mike Vardy: Choosing Your Distractions

From 1440:

Are you Game Ready? How to Execute Like a World-Class Athlete

Three Ways to be More Productive

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If you’ve found this post useful, please pass it on to someone you think may benefit from this. Thanks!

As always, comments are encouraged. How do you manage email? Have you ever tried something like this?  What works for you?

All the best,
Jon

Are You Game Ready? How to Execute Like a World-Class Athlete

“Before anything else, preparation is the key to success.”

Alexander Graham Bell

Wayne Rooney Bicycle Kick - There's no execution without preparation

I’m a sports nerd.  I love watching athletes execute, especially under pressure.  Whether it’s the Packers executing a crucial play in the Super Bowl or an individual doing something magical (Did you see Wayne Rooney’s bicycle kick – 78th minute to win 2-1).  Jordan hitting unconscious shots in key moments, or Tiger Woods draining a 20 foot putt on one leg at the 2008 US Open to send it to a playoff.  I’m always intrigued about what they’re thinking at this time.  Does time stand still?  Have they visualized this same play or putt?  How many times have they practiced this same shot?  When you break it down, it’s simply extreme preparation in action. These athletes aren’t renting their skills.  They own them.  A lot of times they make it look effortless. I watched Tiger Woods hit balls for about an hour after his round at the Memorial a couple of years ago. He was the only one left on the driving range. It was about 7pm. You think he takes the time to prepare?

Always Clutch - You think he was prepared and focused?

IT’S ALL ABOUT EXECUTING WHEN IT MATTERS

I love watching a guy like Peyton Manning look at the defense and adjust plays at the line.  Talk about practicing situational awareness and performing in the zone.  The players are great to watch, but so are the coaches.  Have you ever watched an NFL or college football game and see what the coaches have?   Typically a laminated sheet that has all of their plays/schemes, etc – It’s one sheet typically.   All they’ve prepared for the week or even the season is summarized on this one sheet.  They’re constantly looking at this sheet.  Watching the game, analyzing, thinking, but then going back to their sheet and deciding what the best play right now is….it’s a great lesson on simplifying and providing structure to what you’re doing.  It’s like an action list….everything’s in front of you….you know what calls you need to make are and if you’re near a phone and have time, you just look at the list and start cranking away.  They have specific plays for 3rd and short or 2nd and long.  They make a decision based on what’s going on in the game and what’s going to deliver the best result…again, at this moment.

Is it best to brainstorm that project you’ve been thinking about…or, is it best, to tick off some of those annoying bills you have to pay.  You be the judge.  You need to analyze the situation – your energy level, what’s pressing, your time.

When you’ve prepared like this and you have the full landscape in front of you, you enter what I like to call the Focus Zone…you’re in it, you’re in the game.  And, you need to trust that you’re making the best decision at that moment.  Will it always be the right one?  Maybe not, but for the information you have and the environment you’re in, at least you’re making the most informed decision.

Some habits we can model after world-class athletes:

  1. Go into each day with a plan – Start with planning out your first set of plays before you start.  Do this either at the end of the day (for tomorrow) or first thing in the morning.  Begin with identifying the tasks or things I have to complete today (my hard landscape) and then a list of what I’d like to accomplish.  If need be, create one list for work stuff and one for personal.  Just doing this will allow  you to focus at the start of your day and to execute on your plan first thing.  You will see your stress subside and will feel a sense of accomplishment by executing here.  I guarantee the best athletes and coaches have a plan each day.
  2. Simplify your reference guide – Can you get it to one page?  If you engage in GTD (Getting Things Done by David Allen), this would be your next action lists.  Personally, I like to create a hot list of items and put these on one page (key calls, @computer tasks, etc).  A great read on this is First Things First by Stephan Covey.  Check it out.  Look at a football coach next time you watch a game (I know, football season’s over so you’ll have to wait a while).  One sheet typically – that’s focus!

    Brady Looking at His Play Sheet
  3. Become a master at situational awareness – Be ready to adapt, while staying true to your plan as much as possible.  Plan on getting a curve ball everyday.  It’s inevitable.  If you need to adapt, do it.
  4. Keep your offense on the field – Be proactive more than reactive.  As much as possible, focus on the important stuff.  I view email as a pretty reactive system.  Most emails can be deleted or filed.  I’d guess that only about 30% are actionable and of those, I bet 10% have key information needed to execute on your key tasks/desired outcomes.  Give yourself certain times to batch process emails.  If you have to scan every once in a while, do it.  Even if it’s once an hour or half hour at first – try it.  Set an alarm if you have to and DON’T cheat.  You will see your productivity jump significantly by executing on this one habit.

What do you do to execute your game plan?  I’d love to hear your comments.  In this day and age of many choices on what we do every minute, it’s crucial to follow a plan and focus on the key stuff that truly matters.

Some additional reading on this topic:

From 1440:

Three Ways to be More Productive

Do You Have Trouble Focusing?

From Illuminated Mind by Jonathan Mead – Four Things in Business You Always Need to Be Thinking About

From Zen Habits by Leo Babauta – The Magical Power of Focus

From Reading for your Success by Scott Dinsmore – 11 Steps to Insane Focus – Do More of What Matters

If you’ve received some inspiration from this post, I’d be delighted if you passed this on to at least one person that could benefit from it.  You can email this from the “share” link below.   Don’t forget to sign up to receive emails when I post (about once a week) or RSS. You can connect with me on Twitter and Facebook as well.

All the Best,

Jon

Introducing the New 1440

Hi everyone. I’m psyched to introduce the new and improved 1440! I made the switch to a new blog template called WordPress. It’s a much more user friendly site and I think it provides a much cleaner look. I’d love to get your feedback. You’ll notice the new logo as well. After much deliberation on some great designs, I felt this was the one.

There’s a lot more to come, including more consistent posts. I’m also in the process of writing an eBook, which I plan on publishing later this year.

I’m so thankful for your support over the last year as I’ve dipped my feet into this writing thing. I’m humbled that you’ve subscribed and follow me. As always, I’d love to hear from you, so don’t hesitate to reach out with any suggestions or questions.

The greatest compliment you could give me is to tell your friends and colleagues about 1440. As you know, it’s free to subscribe and they can always cancel if they think it’s bad : )

Some other new stuff: I now have a share section under the post where you can email, retweet or post on your facebook page (amongst other methods). Also, there are links to connect with me on twitter and facebook on the right hand side.

Finally, I’ve partnered with a Columbus, OH based T Shirt company called Skreened. You can now get a 1440 T shirt! I’m really excited how these turned out. Check out the store at the following link:

http://skreened.com/myfourteenforty

I’m excited about 2011 and I look forward to interacting with you throughout the year.

Have a great week!

Jon

The Lost Art of Handwritten Notes

When was the last time you’ve written a thank you card or letter to someone? Probably a while for most. We live in an electronic world these days which, of course, is a great thing and makes us very efficient when communicating. That being said, don’t underestimate the power of a hand-written note to someone. I keep a stack of thank you cards by my desk so that they’re quick and easy to write. It only takes a couple of minutes to write one. You can always customize these as well with your name printed somewhere. In a time where you rarely see this, it’s a great way to stand out from the crowd. Happy Easter to everyone!

9 Tips on Reading Non-Fiction

For those who like to read, here are some tips reading non-fiction:

1 – Finishing the book is not the goal – Just b/c you started reading a book doesn’t mean you have to finish it. If you’re not into it, there’s no reason you should continue reading. The goal is to learn.
2 – Take Notes in the book – I had a hard time doing this for a while b/c you always feel that the book is sacred and you shouldn’t write in it. Go for it. You will retain a lot more info as well by simply writing your thoughts down.
3 – There’s no rule on reading one book at a time – This is up to you. You hear some people say you should only read one at a time, some say you can read more than one. I think you have to tinker with it. I prefer to read multiple books at once, usually no more than 2 or 3.
4 – You can buy a book even if you’re not going to read it right away – If you see something you like and you have the money to spend, go for it. It will look nice on your bookshelf as well.
5 – Keep a list of books you want to read – Great GTD habit. I have a checklist on my blackberry of all the books I want to read. It’s up to about 50. Maybe I will read them, maybe I won’t. It’s good to know they’re there.
6 – It’s OK to skim – Usually, you can get the meat of the content in the first paragraph of each chapter and a lot of times in the summary on each chapter. It’s not a bad way to get an overview and then you can dive in if you’re really interested. I’ve been to Barnes and Noble many times and have skimmed 2-3 books in an hour or two. Learned this from Frank Sopper, a GTD follower and expert in learning styles. You can read more about Frank and his company here. I did a coaching session with Frank and will share some thoughts on that in a future post.
7 – Be Open – There are a lot of experts out there that have gone through experiences that can help you out immensely.
8 – It’s OK to re-read – Many times, I will refer back to a book or even read it a second time. It’s amazing what you can reinforce or even pick up a second time around.
9 – Ask for recommendations – Find someone your respect and ask them what they’re reading. Most people have 2-3 favorites that they got a lot out of. I have a good friend and colleague who’s also a big reader and is very successful. Some of our best conversations are about books we’ve read. We have the same taste and it’s always good to hear about a book I may get something out of that I’m unaware of.

I’m a big fan of Levenger. Great tools for reading (and writing).

A Message On Perspective

My family received a Christmas card today from one of my mother-in-law’s best friends. The husband in the family had a stroke last year and is truly blessed to be alive. Although he’s had many obstacles along the way, they are taking the glass half-full approach. There’s a quote in the Christmas letter that I’d like to share with you.

“The burden of suffering can seem like a tomb stone hung about one’s neck, while in reality it is only the weight which is necessary to hold down the diver while he is diving for pearls.”

How about that for perspective.

3 Ways to Listen More Effectively

I had a colleague say to me once, “you have 2 ears and one mouth for a reason.” I’ve never forgotten that. Have you ever noticed yourself drifting off when someone’s talking to you or found yourself not being able to hold back b/c you want to say something. I know I have. This is one of the hardest things to change. The first step is to be conscious of it. Let me first make a confession. I’m not very good at this. If you ask my wife, Michelle, what the one thing she would change about me, she would say that she would want me to listen more and better. I guess the first step is admitting your shortcoming, right?

I believe there are three keys to listening more effectively in your professional life and at home:

1 – Single Task
2 – Minimize Distractions
3 – Pay Attention

Here are my thoughts on these three:

1 – Single Task:
There used to be a lot of people that talked about how much you needed to multi-task. We’ve seen that change. The more you multi-task, the less you will really get accomplished. Pick a task and see it through. I guarantee you will be more productive (and you will get that sense of accomplishment with each completion). This goes for listening. Be fully engaged. If someone’s talking to you, really pay attention to what they’re saying. Don’t cut them off. Try to minimize the 500 thoughts that are going through your head. Look them in the eye and give them your full attention. Make them feel like you are in tune to what they’re saying.

2 – Minimize Distractions:
If you’re working and in a meeting put your blackberry or other device away. You can check it every once in a while, but don’t keep it out. If it’s out, you’re going to look at (a lot). And, please, turn off the vibrate notification for emails. I can’t tell you how many meetings I’ve been in where someone’s phone is vibrating every 2 minutes. This is very distracting.

If you’re on a conference call, minimize or shut down your computer as much as possible. Of course, there needs to be some flexibility here. If you’re not an active participant but simply need to be on the call, it’s ok to get some other things done. However, if the call is an important one, do what you can to stay offline and off your computer.

The same goes for regular phone calls. I used to be guilty of this a lot. You’re on the phone with someone and you’re surfing the net or sending emails out. Do you think you’re giving that call it’s rightful attention? Definitely not.

3 – Pay Attention:
I want you to start to think about listening the next time you’re talking to your colleague, your client, your wife, your children, etc. The more you’re aware of it, the better you will get.

“A good listener tries to understand what the other person is saying. In the end he may disagree sharply, but because he disagrees, he wants to know exactly what it is he is disagreeing with.” – Kenneth A. Wells

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic. What works for you? Is an improvement area at work, at home? If you start paying attention, really paying attention, and you’re noticing an improvement, I’d love to hear about it.

Situational Awareness

I love this term. David Allen has used it to describe the constant input we receive and the ability to react to it. He’s used a reference to pilots, especially fighter pilots who have to react to critical situations in a moment’s notice. Of course, most of what we do everyday is not life or death. For a fighter pilot, it is.

You have to be able to adapt. It’s great to set goals each day and engage your task/next action list, however, if new input comes in that needs to be a priority, you have to change focus. I’ve experienced this today. I have my daily goals lined up. I’m engaging with my next action list, and bam, I get off a couple conference calls and I have some new input that I need to act on right now.

So, what do you do? Well, here’s what I do. I have a whiteboard in my office. You can do this on a piece of scratch paper, or anywhere you can get your thoughts out. I simply grab what has my attention. I make a list (takes me a minute), then I think about what I’m trying to accomplish (the desired outcome). Then right next to it, I write down the next action.

Right now, I have 9 items I thought of, 3 of which are critical to do right now…so, I stop what I’m doing and/or what I had planned and engage with those 3 actions.

Be prepared, because the unexpected will happen a lot. As I stated above, you have to be able to adapt. Life will bring plenty of these experiences. It’s how fast and in control you can switch focus that will bring you the best results.

Welcome to 1440 – my blog inspired from my dealings with David Allen’s Getting Things Done, the ground-breaking productivity methodology that has helped many individuals achieve great success at home and in their professional lives.

1440 is the number of minutes we have in each day, where we have an opportunity to achieve what we’ve set out to do. I don’t know about you, but I’ve found that there are many obstacles to accomplishing what we want to. Email, Phone Calls, Web Surfing, Office Interruptions…you name it. Today, there are countless things that divert our attention.

This is an ongoing game that we’re playing. Either master it and reach your potential, or live in a state of mediocrity. I plan on providing insight from my experiences (both struggles and successes) with doing the best I can each and everyday.

I leave you with a great quote by Winston Churchill:

“Success is going from failure to failure without losing enthusiasm.”

We will all encounter many failures along the way. The true test of a person is how you pick yourself back up and continue to reach for greatness.

I wish you well and look forward to interacting as we take this very exciting journey.

Jon