A little bit of where I am coming from. Before we dive into email productivity and what I do to stay on top of things, I need to share some information about what my past looked like.
Inbox zero Keeping up with emails Generally 20 or so items in my inbox. This was what my inbox looked like in December 2014 Knew all the players and all the projects Then I decided it would be fun to get a new job….whose idea was that anyway?
Started a new job in a library doing a major construction project (midway through the project) Technology was (and still is) somewhat behind where we need to be My staff size jumped from 45 to 121 More managers More projects So so so many more emails (once everyone had email and we set-up distribution lists) I couldn’t keep up with it It was overwhelming
First I thought it had to be me. New job Lots to do Construction project I needed to get a better handle on things. Needed to learn more about the staff, library, community But deep down, I felt like if I could just wrap my arms around everything, I would be in good shape.
So I went back to my favorite book on productivity: Getting Things Done by David Allen I reread and restructured how I was looking at projects and made sure I was really living the GTD model
Quick overview of the model
So I went back to Nirvana HQ which is what I use for my project tracking and to do listing and restructured it a little. I made folders for each of my direct reports since I was now waiting on updates a lot more and needed to keep track of who was doing what. I used to store it in my head and suddenly, that just wasn’t working. I worked at using the contexts more so I knew when things were due or what was higher priority. I worked on doing the weekly review (which I must admit is critical to the success of productivity and the one area that I do consistently fail at) But I was still not catching up with things
So having some type of system is critical. There is no way to get it all done with the number of projects most of us have without having some way to keep track of things. But, that was no longer enough for me.
I felt like my brain was broken Partly because new job, moved, construction But also so much more information coming at me I hated the feeling and wanted to fix it This has happened to me with each new set of responsibilities. You need to almost learn to rewire your brain to deal with information in a new way So I decided to dig deeper
I knew I needed to see what I was doing on a daily basis Here is my calendar for this month which shows you a typical day in the life. I also have a few other calendars I layer over this for when things are due (board packet, grants, etc) But you’ll notice a couple things We use zimbra. Don’t ask. It’s painful The calendar doesn’t really have any color coding options—not helpful Doesn’t show you the entire name- also not helpful Plus, it has a ton on it Which leads me to my next tip
I really hate zimbra. We are switching to Gmail, but with 121 people and a ton of other projects, it isn’t a quick process. It doesn’t integrate with my iPhone easily. I have to open up a browser to see my calendar And it is soooooooooooooooo slow This in turn makes it much harder to be productive. THERE ARE NO COLORS FOR THE CALENDAR!!!! But I was bound and determined to prevail. Since I couldn’t change the email right away, I had to figure out how to maximize its awfulness
I was getting hundreds of emails a day and I couldn’t figure out why I couldn’t get them all taken care of in a reasonable timeframe I felt two days was reasonable, but now I am up to about a week. So I set up filters for my email messages: 1Board= anything from any of my board members. It’s red because it’s important CCS= anything related to our ILS consortium. Sometimes listservs, sometimes other stuff Listservs= directors only, MAI, Municipal Minute, ISL, community stuff RAILS= anything from RAILS (I’m on the board so also important) Staff Emails= anything from someone at the library Inbox= everything else, most importantly patrons Most email clients has a way to filter your message directly into a folder so it doesn’t clog up your inbox.
Then, when emails came in, I reviewed them per GTD model and put them in one of these categories or in one of my reference folders (not shown) Then I added the emails into my NirvanaHQ (there is a handy email feature that lets you send items to your to do list) so I didn’t have two spots to look with the stuff I needed to get done
This was eye opening for me. I was finally able to see what was going on and who I was getting the most emails from. Anyone want to guess?
That’s right. 75% of my emails were coming from staff. I was shocked. Part of it was because they weren’t sure what they had to run by me, but a lot of it was just keeping me in the loop on what was happening. And also because we don’t have Gmail we don’t have google hangouts and so email is also treated like IM. So once I got the filtering set-up and realized it was mostly staff that were causing this tremendous flow, I decided we needed to work on what to send emails for.
We read an article on email subject lines and discussed in our manager’s meeting. We decided to come up with a series of items to help us better denote information in the subject. NRR= No Reply Required Yep, that means no thank you or I got it or anything else. Here’s an example NRR Suzy will be Librarian in Charge this evening PYR= Per Your Request If someone has asked for documents, information, etc RN (+date)= Response Needed (by MM/DD/YY) Need that report or policy update or anything by a certain date? Use this. You can also use it without a date if you have a question on something but just need to get a response back EOM= End of Message You can put your whole message in the subject line and end with this We did a trial run with the managers and then after a couple months shared with staff. Which leads me to tip #4
Some people use religiously, others only a little bit, but I can attest that even a little bit helps.
So now you might be wondering if that fixed everything and if it is now all awesome?
And I can categorically say that it is better, but that there are still days when I feel like this. But it made me realize some other things. There is a ton to do and I could spend all day just on emails. There are days when I don’t even look at my email until 5pm because I just can’t. So how could I better manage that?
I turned off the email notifications on my phone. I do check my phone, but not nearly as often I give myself permission to do as much as I can and not stay up crazy late trying to get to everything I do the best that I can with the hours I have and prioritize and delegate whenever possible I say no to additional things to having to be on call 24/7 I postpone non critical things I let people know that I am not perfect (not that you find picketers outside my office ever arguing differently) and that I make mistakes. I own when I miss something and let them know that it is ok to fail. I remind myself that Stress has a direct impact on productivity Lack of sleep has a direct impact on productivity I have decided (most days) to give myself the freedom to not work all the time and to break free even if that means I am not responding as I (or others) would like And because of that, I have a better balance and (I hope) better productivity, even though I still struggle with balance, I feel like I have made strides and know that I will continue to work on being better each and every day
Secrets of Being Highly Productive: Email
Secrets to Being Highly
Productive with Email
Northbrook Public Library