Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Taming the Email Monster

How much time do you spend reading and responding to – or simply deleting – emails? How much unread email currently clutters your inbox? If you’re like most entrepreneurs, the answer (in both cases) is far too much!

In fact, if you were brave enough to actually time yourself, you’d very likely find you spend two or even three hours each and every day just dealing with email. Yikes! No wonder you feel like you don’t get anything done. Time to build a solid email system to help you tame that beast for good.
Auto-File Your “To Read” Emails

We all do it. We open an email, realize it’s a newsletter we love, an important announcement, or information about an upcoming event, and we close it with a well-intentioned, “I’ll read that later.” The trouble is, when later comes, we either can’t find the email, or don’t even remember that we wanted to read it.
What if you had a folder on your computer where all your “to be read” emails waited just for you to come by and discover them again? How empty would your inbox be then? Through the power of filters and folders, just about any email client can take care of this task for you.

Simply set up a folder called “To Read” or something else equally clever, then create an email rule or filter (as Gmail calls them) to deliver certain messages to that folder when they come in. Make a rule for your favorite online newsletter, email from your college alumni association, your local chamber of commerce, or even your sister.
But here’s the trick to it: You have to actually schedule time to go and read these emails. Don’t let them just pile up in there, because all that does is move the problem from your inbox to your “to read” folder. Make time to read them, then respond, file, or trash accordingly.

Turn off Notifications
Are you easily distracted by email? You’re not alone. That little red number declaring the number of unread emails, or the pretty little chime that announces the arrival of a new message is an invitation to click over and see what’s new.

Turn it off. In fact, turn off the automatic checking for email if you can. That way you can purposefully decide when to go read your email, rather than being notified of a new message every 5 minutes.

Chances are you’re on multiple mailing lists – and most of them you probably never read.
Click the unsubscribe button. Be ruthless. You can always sign up again if you miss the content, but for now, eliminating those emails from your inbox will save you a lot of time and trouble.
Getting a handle on email is one of the toughest things for busy small business owners, but with a little planning and some self-discipline, you can become an email ninja, and start using email as the powerful tool it is, rather than letting it run your life.

Monday, August 25, 2014

3 Top Time Management Techniques for Powerhouse Productivity

You’ve no doubt heard the names a thousand times. Getting Things Done. The Pomodoro Technique. Stephen Covey’s urgent/important matrix.

But which ones are best for cutting through the overwhelm and really managing your to-do list? Well, like most things, which system or technique works best is mostly a matter of personal choice. However, there are some things you should know about each one that might make choosing easier.
Getting Things Done
Developed by David Allen, Getting Things Done, or GTD, is a system designed to help you know at a glance exactly what you should be doing right now. The idea is simple. For every item that lands in your “inbox” (which might be email, a phone call, a letter, or just a passing comment from a spouse) you make an immediate decision to either do it, delegate it, file it, defer it, or trash it.
Once you’ve made your decision (based on the task itself and the time it will take to complete) you either do the thing or note it in your “trusted system” for retrieval – and completion – later. Devotees of GTD spend hours developing their own trusted systems, which can consist of paper planners, expensive software, or just a few note cards and a pen. (I'm a sticky note gal, myself!). In GTD, the tools are entirely up to you, it’s the methodology that matters.
The Pomodoro Technique
This method is a boon to those who find themselves easily distracted. The principle is simple: Set a timer, and get to work. Typically, proponents of The Pomodoro Technique use a simple kitchen timer (often shaped like a tomato – or pomodoro, in Italian) set for 25 minutes. During that time, they focus only on the task at hand. When the timer goes off, they take a 5 minute break, then set the timer for another 25 minutes.
Each 25-minute set is called a pomodoro. Once you’ve completed four pomodoros, you take a 20 minute break, before beginning the cycle again.
Urgent/Important Time Management Matrix
Stephen Covey’s brainchild provides an easy way to prioritize your work. Begin by dividing a piece of paper into four sections (two rows by two columns) and assigning a level of urgency/importance to each quadrant. The upper left is important but not urgent, the upper right is urgent and important, the lower left is neither urgent nor important, and the lower right is urgent but not important.
Now take your to-do list and assign each item to a quadrant. For example, grocery shopping might be important but it’s probably not urgent. Fixing your client’s broken website is both important and urgent. Answering the phone when your mother calls for the fourth time is urgent, but not important.
By dividing up your task list according to these priorities, you can easily see what you need to be working on next, and what can wait until the urgent and important items are cleared from your schedule.
There are dozens more techniques and strategies boomerpreneurs use to manage their time and get more work done than many others do. In fact, these methods can (and should) be tweaked to fit your own needs and lifestyles. But the bottom line is this: you have to find a system that works for you, and that is compatible with your style. Otherwise, the method itself will become just another distraction that causes you to lose focus rather than become the productive business owner you know you can be.

Do you have a favorite time management or productivity technique? Please share in the comments!