5 Tips for Staying On Top of Incoming Emails

Don’t let handling email become your full-time job.

I started to seriously use email in college. It was great! Instant communication across campus and around the world—as long as you were trying to reach someone else who had email. The College of Engineering had it, and the Department of Computer Science, naturally. I think the administration did. But my parents didn’t, and neither did most of my friends. So email started off as a pretty productive tool.

Now, everyone has email. Most of us have multiple accounts. Some pets. We receive news alerts, ads, and even emails about what’s happened on Twitter and Facebook since we last signed in. You can receive bank statements and bills. You can even send money by email now.

And, oh yeah—we still get work done through email.

So how do you sort through the fluffy kittens, phishing attempts, and advertisements to focus on the truly important emails you receive? Here are the five tips that have had the most impact on how I handle email.

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You have to be proactive to work on Quadrant II because Quadrants I and III work on you. To say “yes” to important Quadrant II priorities, you have to learn to say “no” to other activities, sometimes apparently urgent things.

Stephen R. Covey, 1932-2012, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People

How Planning Can Help You Handle Interruptions

Is this more important than what you were working on?

There is never enough time to do everything, but there is always enough time to do the most important thing.

The problem is that the most important thing at 9am may not still be the most important thing at 5pm, at 1pm, or even at 9:01 am.

When a pebble interrupts the stillness of a pond, the water responds just enough to accomodate the pebble. Ripples spread out across the surface. The pebble sinks to the sandy bottom. The surface is soon tranquil again. The interruption doesn’t throw off the pond’s entire day.

Photo courtesy of © iStockPhoto / NiseriN

I tell this story to illustrate the truth of the statement I heard long ago in the Army: Plans are worthless, but planning is everything. There is a very great distinction because when you are planning for an emergency you must start with this one thing: the very definition of “emergency” is that it is unexpected, therefore it is not going to happen the way you are planning.

Dwight D. Eisenhower

What I Learned About Priorities from Grandma’s Fine China

Simple changes can free up significant margin

I was flopped on the couch. My sister sat beside me, knitting. A feast of turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, and cranberry jelly would soon need to make room for pie. We had just started A Muppet Christmas Carol, our traditional inauguration of the Christmas season.

In the kitchen, the adults were talking. Leftovers had been transferred to Tupperware containers and packed into the fridge, pies had been placed on the wood stove in the hall to warm, and grandma’s fine china had been cleared from the table and thrown in the trash.

Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/scampdesigns

Fill Your Bucket with Big Rocks

The two core elements of a planning system are your task list and calendar—what you need to do and when you need to be where. Most people leave it at that and do just fine. But the real power of your calendar is unlocked when you start putting tasks on it.

Your schedule is a bucket. Any space you leave open in your schedule will naturally and automatically fill with gravel. The key to being productive is to fill your bucket with big rocks before letting it fill up with gravel.

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Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen nineteen and six, result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds ought and six, result misery.

Wilkins Micawber, David Copperfield, 1850

Setting Up Siri with OmniFocus

Tell Your Digital Assistant Where to File Your Tasks

Siri, the voice-activated personal assistant built into iOS, is a great way to capture information. Instead of unlocking your iPhone and getting distracted by notifications and badged app icons, you can quickly schedule appointments, take a note, and, with a little configuration, add tasks to OmniFocus.