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email exhale

I’m working with an engineer in Chicago to help with an overflowing email inbox. Following are a few of the brave decisions he made to streamline and declutter:

  • Subscribe to a one-folder archive system instead of organizing into email folders (I’ll post more on this conceptin the coming weeks)
  • Install X1 to find anything in the “dump” within seconds (I’ll post more on X1 in the coming weeks)
  • Check email fewer times per day–moving from 15-20 to roughly 5–so he can increase his email processing time and decrease interruptions
  • Reduce the number of emails in his inbox–from a couple thousand to roughly 50 (or to only those from the last rolling seven days)
    • He went through steps on his own similar to the ones posted here and got his number under a thousand with great determination, but relatively little time
    • We’ll work together to get him closer to his goal by establishing a task tracking system he can use to defer work & delegated tasks; he’s considering paper planners as a possible solution
  • Reduce the number of years of information sitting in Outlook by archiving a .pst file.
  • Customize Outlook to perform routine tasks to his liking

What kinds of things are you doing to streamline email?

One critical time management skill is to find ways to do things faster. This can encompass a variety of techniques. Delegation. Deletion! Learning new ways of doing things. (Like the speed reading class I’m taking in March.) Making use of tools which help you complete things faster.

Nowadays it seems there’s at least one technology tool to meet and/or exceed your imagination. Last week when I wanted to minimize my travel time to see the Addams Family before it left the Chicago theatre district, I thought surely there’s a web tool for that.

Allow me to introduce you to:, a dynamite site for reducing time spent looking for parking.

What tools do you use to manage your time better?

 Eat Frogs for Breakfast

We all struggle with prioritization from time to time. But if we’re honest with ourselves, we already know what’s more important and what needs to get finished today. We know what we need to do in order to meet our deadlines. And when we’re engaged in reaching our goals, we know what needs to be done next to push them along. We’re just not slowing down enough to listen.

If you want to consistently spend time in a committed and purposeful manner, consider adopting this new daily habit:

At the end of each day, review your tasks to make a plan for the next working day. Pick three-a frog, a dream and a wild card.

Start by identifying the biggest, most important task you need to complete-the frog. (There’s an old adage, if you have to eat a frog, don’t spend a lot of time looking at it first. And if you have to eat two of them, start with the ugliest.) Maybe it’s strategic work that requires focused think time, or perhaps it’s something you have a burning desire to procrastinate for untold emotional reasons. No matter, eating your largest, ugliest frog first will give you the boost to help the rest of the day seem lighter.

Next, pick a dream. The daily grind is rich with externally-driven tasks and rarely prompts you to insert assignments related to your personal, inwardly-driven goals. To move yourself toward your ambitions, consciously include taking one step toward your dreams. You’ll see, over time they will develop into reality.

Lastly, select one critical task of your choice-the wild card.

Put the three items you picked on top of your to do list. Will you accomplish more than three things the following day? Maybe, but no matter what else happens, you’ll focus on the three most important things first. (And you’ll sleep easier knowing what’s ahead of you the next day.)

It’s going to be tough, but stick to the plan you outlined. Eat the frog. Reach for the dream. But do not initiate other tasks before completing the three you selected. One easy way to make this practice a reality: don’t check your email until you’ve eaten the frog, legs and all.

Someone I know and trust, Diane Testa, is co-hosting a Chicago workshop in January. I want to highlight her message…

“It’s time to acknowledge this past year’s accomplishments and chart your course for 2010.  Are you thriving in your life or in need of a change and new inspiration? In this results-focused workshop, you’ll learn how to live deliberately and create a more fulfilling life rather than have the outside world shape it for you.  With the help of a licensed psychologist, a corporate executive and feedback from peers, you’ll be able to shift your consciousness to a mindful and peaceful place, and walk away with a roadmap to your Good Life. Take advantage of this creative but practical approach to self-awareness, assessing your life inventory, living with intention and overcoming barriers to establishing your own personal definition of success.”

Register or find out more at Finding My Good Life.

Life Contained founder, Jan Wencel, authored a chapter for Insights on Productivity–a productivity book published by the Network for Productivity Excellence.

The productivity article is about employing techniques to de-velocitize your life and work toward operating at a productive, fulfilling and life-nurturing pace. The productivity book is filled with 24 powerful time-management tips.

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.


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.


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.

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