This article by Vanessa Loder first appeared in Forbes
Let me paint a picture for you. Your day is chock full of meetings, between which you frantically try to catch up on emails and respond to everyone’s requests. Your tight schedule forces you to get back online at night to finish work after you’ve had dinner or put your kids to bed.
This leaves you feeling exhausted and as though you’ve never done enough at the end of each day. You can’t seem to get any “real” work done during the day. Does this sound familiar?
Here are five tips and some sample templates to help you efficiently deal with the daily deluge of emails and get the real work done.
1. No Email In The Morning
DO NOT check email the first hour of the day. If you want to be really productive, do not check email for the first three hours of the day. As you practice this act of self-discipline, you will be astounded at how much more productive you are.
One successful entrepreneur told me the best advice he ever received was “Don’t read your email until three hours into your day, otherwise you’ll do email for the first three hours of the day.”
The most successful people don’t check email first thing in the morning.
Research shows if you’re trying to form a new habit, it’s easier to replace one habit with another rather than going cold turkey . So, instead of checking email first thing in the morning, I recommend starting your day with a short, 5 minute guided meditation to clear your mind before you tackle your most important project.
2. Set boundaries – and stick to them!
It’s really hard to turn off work for entrepreneurs. The solution is to use discipline and set rules for oneself. One CEO I interviewed shared “I set rules for myself like I’m not going to stay past a certain time, I’m going to leave my computer at work. I set a schedule for what hours I’m supposed to be here. Every Thursday I come in at 11am so I can stay home and have breakfast with my wife and son and then I stay late that night, I just shift my schedule. Setting a schedule is important. It’s also important to separate the urgent from the important. There is always stuff to get done.”
If you have a hard time setting boundaries, get clear on your values.
3. Prioritize Ruthlessly.
Each evening before you go to bed, ask yourself “What are the three most important things I need to do tomorrow to move my career and company forward?” Write these down. The next morning, instead of checking email, work on these three things first.
Many entrepreneurs I speak with have difficulty prioritizing because there is so much uncertainty. They have a hard time choosing which three things to focus on in a given day. It’s normal to feel uncertain, simply pick your top three priorities and complete them that day.
Part of the game is making a commitment and moving forward even if you aren’t sure if it’s the “right” step. As long as you’re taking action on what you believe at the time to be a top priority, you will move your business forward. You may learn that the priorities need to change, but the only way to truly determine this is to start taking action today.
4. Just Say No.
To reclaim your time and get the real work done, you need to be ruthless with your choices . If someone requests your presence at a meeting, ask yourself if it’s really necessary before committing. Don’t be afraid to say no. In the end, you will be more productive even if it feels uncomfortable at first.
Saying no takes practice. Try it out with a simple situation first. You may not do it as gracefully or confidently as you would like in the beginning, but you will get better with practice. First Round Partner Bill Trenchard suggests having a ‘No template’ such as this one:
Great to hear from you. I hope all is well. Fortunately, my company is starting to take off, and I’m under extreme pressure to deliver against some ambitious goals. I go to a lot of social events, but unfortunately I won’t be able to connect right now.
5. Bulk Task.
Take certain mundane tasks such as paying bills, responding to email, and filling out forms, and bulk task them. Rather than constantly distracting yourself in small increments of time, set aside a chunk of time to complete all these small tasks at once.
It can help to set specific times of day during which you will be checking and responding to emails. For example, check email at 10am and 4pm and spend thirty to sixty minutes responding to emails at each of those times. For the rest of the day, do not check email. If you’re afraid of missing something urgent, you can give people the option to reach out to someone else or call you directly by sending an auto-responder such as this one, provided by Tim Ferriss:
Due to high workload, I am currently checking and responding to email twice daily at 10am and 4pm EST [insert your time zone].
If you require urgent assistance that cannot wait until either 10am or 4pm, please contact me via phone at 555-555-5555.
Thank you for understanding this move to more efficiency and effectiveness. It helps me accomplish more to serve you better.
I actually used this very email template myself, inserting a line at the beginning that said “I’m doing a productivity experiment for one month…” because I was too nervous to have it sound permanent. The results were amazing! I got so much more work done, and best of all, many people responded saying that they respected what I was doing and were inspired by the idea.
Try these five techniques out for yourself and let me know in the comments below what you think.