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Email Flag

A virtual organizing session Monday with one of my favorite entrepreneur clients, Lennie Rose, started with a confession. She told me she was “flagging herself to death.”

As we scrolled together through her email inbox, I saw the hefty evidence behind her gloomy statement. We found a brighter story when we dug a little deeper.

Email Inbox Assessment

Lennie was not alone in storing loads of other items in her inbox than just newly received mail. Items (some opened, others not) requiring action and candidates for future reference were the two most popular kind.

There was also a pattern of half processed email. You know, where you open it…think, ugh, I don’t want to deal with this right now…and then move onto the next email?

There were lots of unwanted emails. Subscriptions to newsletters she didn’t read. Updates from social media sites galore. And, of course, unsolicited junk mail.

And then there were the flags. Lots of them. Some of them indicating tasks to complete. While most identifying email gold–the thoughtful notes from friends and fans, the interesting person/blog/product she’ll want to find when the time is right.

Healthier Email Habits

The first inbox habit she decided to institute was to stop using the inbox to store reference items. (Many folks go further and decide action items go elsewhere, too.) The process of moving things to reference was made easier since she uses X1 to find things.

The second habit was to unsubscribe to things no longer valuable, to add repeat junk offenders to her blocked email list, and to permanently delete those she’s too exhausted to unsubscribe from but doesn’t want to ever see again. (Pressing shift while hitting delete in Outlook will do this automatically.)

The third habit was to process email all the way to the end. That meant if she opened it, then she needed to follow through all the way to the end…moving it to a reference folder, deleting it (yes, like most people, there were many emails clouding the inbox that simply needed to be deleted), scheduling it on her calendar, or leaving it in the inbox to indicate action needed.

What email habits do you want to shed? Or which are the ones you want to embrace?

Sales Rep Time Management

Life Contained conducts ongoing time management training for a financial services principal charged with business development. They collaborate to build systems and habits to maintain momentum and increase productivity…all with an eye toward having more fun at work and adding life moments.  

Following are a few of the courageous decisions she has made:

  • Delegate research. Instead of spending precious call time researching who to call next, she decided delegating the task would not only free her up, but would enable someone else in the company to learn a valuable skill. (Implementation was a little rocky. She accidentally formed a habit of double checking fairly accurate work that she had to shake.)

  • Assign weekly themes. To give the conversations more continuity, she decided to dedicate each week to a particular prospect segment. This not only enables her to truly dig into the mindset of her prospects, but also offers the opportunity to plan weekly themes in advance.

  • Memorize SalesForce reports. To allow for tracking and single-click printing of information she frequently wanted, she decided to create and memorize new SalesForce reports.

  • Plan for tomorrow at end of today. To diminish moments at home spent thinking about work, she plans tomorrow at the end of today. Printing her call list, reviewing her project list and completing a custom form we created helps her to close and open work days with more control.

  • Ask for help. When she’s feeling unsure about her numbers, she asks that accountability measures kick into high gear. Sending me daily or weekly emails to report activity is just enough social pressure to keep her charging forward.

What time management techniques have you fearlessly added to your work day to increase efficiency?

A Chicago accounting firm asked Life Contained to help one of their tax accounts to be more productive through greater time management and priority alignment with their team lead.

recurring meetings

One of the key decisions made to reach these goals was to conduct a recurring meeting between this technical powerhouse and his manager. Not quite an apple a day, following is more about the structure he decided to use:

  • Frequency. A weekly meeting seemed best to start. During tax season, this may be revisited.

  • Duration. Thirty minutes, with an option to stretch to forty-five should the need arise.

  • Leadership. My client welcomed the notion of conducting the meeting from his office as opposed to his boss’. Making the suggestion to his manager may not have been easy, but it was accepted and results in a win-win. My client takes on greater ownership. His manager is not distracted by email/phone calls/visitors in his office.
  • Content. Each meeting covers:

    • Schedules (deadlines, meetings, vacations, etc.)

    • Prior week accomplishments (though it was avoided at first because it felt like chest beating, this is covered now to close loops for the manager)

    • Coming week top priorities (making certain you’re aligned)

    • Issues/opportunities (allowing for reactive & proactive planning)

    • New business/firm news (allocating a little time for asking the team lead about the bigger picture)

  • Ground rules. The rules are simple. Show up in body and mind.

His efforts to conduct these recurring meetings result in better prioritization and fewer moments working on the wrong things. Is there someone you should be meeting with regularly? Do you have a recurring meeting highlight we missed?


Time Management Attorney

An attorney in Chicago asked Life Contained to be his business organizer with the goals of increasing office productivity and moments of life. Following are a few of the brave decisions he made to streamline workflow, declutter the inbox, and to take less work home:

Make better use of administrative assistant via weekly meetings that she runs and deferring internal mail. She’s happier. He’s happier. Because they both feel more in control.

Use time management tools instead of brain. Create calendar appointments for project work. Schedule two hours of daily focus time (email off; IM off; door shut; phone screened). Use a combination of Outlook Calendar and Tasks to know what to do when.

Build upon things that work. Like most of our Chicago productivity clients, there were loads of things working. We found ways to squeeze even more from them. Continue to reap the rewards of email while lessening dependence on it by turning off notifications and batch processing. Increase the amount of time in Outlook’s Calendar View (instead of Email View!) by changing the default to open there and committing to flipping there when finished processing email.

His efforts to change work habits results in a lighter briefcase and clearer mind going home each night. Are there things you need to change to make similar gains?

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?

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