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Our clients have been asking, “what should be on our resolution list this year?” We have one simple suggestion: COMPLETELY EMPTY YOUR EMAIL INBOX

For those of you who use your inbox as a storage place…

This may send you into a panic. Do not fret. You can do this.

Start by setting up two appointments: one in the near term & another in six months. In the first appointment delete by age, from the bottom, all the messages you know are extinct and you’ll not need to reference. Then sort by author & delete all the messages from people you know you can eliminate. Next rank by file size & delete the emails with large attachments that you no longer need. The last step may seem drastic, but there are great rewards. Create a folder called “Expired Email.” Choose a date to draw an imaginary line (I suggest no more than three weeks out), then drag all older emails into the expired folder. Any emails retrieved from the expired folder within six months should be incorporated into other reference folders. All others (no exceptions!) should be deleted during the second appointment you arranged for six months out.

For those who use your inbox as a to-do list…

 

We suggest you break this habit. Although more effective than allowing 1,000+ emails to pile up, using your inbox to prompt on-time follow up can lead to mishaps & doesn’t allow for prioritization.

Start by setting up an appointment to create an action file to hold all the reminders you have. Then add reminders for tasks resulting from emails as well as other tasks you need to complete. (We’ve found the tried & true tickler file system works better than any electronic method or otherwise. If you don’t know how to set one up, give us a call. We’ll talk you through it.)

Ah…doesn’t the email white space feel peaceful?

This animation was created by the cartoonist Lev Yilmaz. We think it addresses the procrastinator in all of us. Now that you’ve have a good laugh, it’s BACK TO WORK!

Do you read and respond to emails as soon as they hit your inbox…especially when you’re drafting a letter you don’t want to write? Perhaps you get up to get a glass of water to avoid going through the week’s mail. Do you think about what outfit we’re going to wear Saturday instead of starting a load of laundry?

Guess what? You’re just like everybody else: you procrastinate. But you can set yourself apart by discovering your procrastination tells.

Like poker tells, most people have habits, behaviors or physical reactions which predict when they’re about to procrastinate. If you can figure out what your signals are, then with thoughtful determination you can minimize your productivity intermissions.

FLAVORS OF DILLY DALLYING

Procrastination typically presents itself in the following varieties. 1. Events that come to you: the phone rings, an email pops in your inbox, someone knocks on your door. 2. Events with outside objects that you create: you get up to get a snack, to find “the best” frying pan you follow a chain of websites until you can’t see straight. 3. Internal events: you daydream, you think about trying to remember to pick up toilet paper on your way home.

ENDUCING DEFERRED GRATIFICATION

After you’ve uncovered your tells, try to change your environment or your routines to lessen the distractions. For example, decide to not answer any outside callers during particular hours of the day. Remind yourself to get back to work when you find yourself thinking about candy bars. Set the timer for 15 minutes and consider the task complete when the buzzer sounds. Carry a notebook to collect extraneous to dos so you can safely tell your brain to focus on what you’re supposed to be doing.

You’ll be amazed at how you can convert your procrastination habit into one of productivity.

paper-based action fileA desktop action file positions current files (and control over paper) at your fingertips.

What Belongs in an Action File?

All the papers triggering you to do something today, in the next few weeks, or regularly should live in an Action File. (e.g., make a phone call, enter information into your address book, visit a website, read, research, write an email, review a statement for accuracy, file in long-term filing, enter transactions into the computer.)

What Doesn’t Belong in an Action File?

All the papers you’re keeping for reference or legal reasons, but do not require action on a near-term or regular basis should be archived or stored in a long-term filing system. (e.g., completed project files, tax-related papers, manuals, insurance policies, best practice articles, performance reviews, maintenance records, birth certificate.)

Steps to Create a Categorical Action File

1. Schedule a few hours to create an Action File.

2. Gather all your loose papers, a scratch pad, and a pen.

3. Take the first piece of paper and ask yourself “What is the next action I need to take to get this piece of paper out of my life?”. Write down the answer on the scrap paper and begin a pile of papers labeled with this category heading. Move onto the next paper and repeat. (Most people end up with categories such as recycle, shred, read, write, call, data enter, pay, pending, file, and then special categories to fit their unique situation.)

4. Assess your categories, and condense where possible. Tally the number of categories and evaluate if you can create a file system with your current office supplies, or if you’ll need to purchase new ones.

5. Shop for new materials if necessary. (Some of our favorites are this desktop file box and these hanging and file folders.)

6. Install your office products and place the piles of papers into their properly labeled new homes.

7. Add reminders to your calendar. Either specifically call out special tasks with deadlines, or add reminders to go through certain file folders on specified dates to ensure deadlines are not missed.

8. Maintain the system by keeping up with your filing and reminder system, and by removing files you haven’t used in a month or more.

9. Bask in the clear space and control you just created.


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Sue Becker Spark Productivity trainer, Sue Becker, works with people and organizations that want to do and achieve more — and feel more fulfilled in the process.
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