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How I Process Email Twice a Week

I respond to every email I receive that requires a response, including responses to my Sunday newsletter. Email takes more of my time than I want it to, but it is still an important medium for communication. Because email isn’t my priority, and by that I mean something that needs to be completed in order to further my goals or projects, it needs to managed well. I go to inbox zero twice a week.

First, I don’t live in my inbox. I don’t leave my email program open at all times because it isn’t where I do my work. My work is done in face-to-face meetings, on the telephone, or in Ulysses, the software program I use to write. By keeping my email closed, I am not distracted my new incoming email.

Second, I look at my email three or four times a day. If you work for 90 minutes, you can complete a reasonably good amount of work on your most important project. A quick scan at the end of that period lets you check for anything urgent and ensures that you don’t miss anything. If something is really important, someone is going to call you. A quick look, a quick break, and you can go head down for another 90 minutes, or 45 minutes and a 45-minute meeting.

Third, I respond to everything that needs an immediate response. That is far fewer emails than you might imagine. It’s something like one in twenty, mostly client-related email. A good portion of the email you get will be things that other people send you because they want you to be aware of something, most of which won’t impact you or your company or your biggest priorities. Much of what you want to respond to can simply wait.

Much of your email deserves to wait. If you respond to it immediately and in real time, you are saying that whatever is in that email is more important than your most important priority. You are trading your greatest goal for the goal of answering email.

On Wednesday mornings, I process my email, getting all five of my inboxes to zero, replying, archiving, and transferring tasks to my task manager. I repeat this process on Saturdays. In between, I live with a cluttered inbox, free from feeling guilty because I am dedicating my time and energy to my most important priorities.

You are a knowledge worker who is living in the Information Age, a time of accelerating, disruptive change. One of the primary decisions you are going to be responsible for making is how you prioritize, and how you focus your attention and energy on meaningful, purposeful work.


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