Personal Productivity

How to Stop Living an Email-driven Life

AUTHOR: Francisco Sáez
tags Focus Advice Organization

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How to Stop Living an Email-driven Life

These days it is very common to see many knowledge workers living their life around email. Email is not only where they communicate with others, but also where they organize their work and manage their tasks. Email is the base camp where everything they have to do is born, handled and killed.

We live in an age where the chances of distraction have reached limits that we could not imagine just a few years ago. Now, if we want to be efficient and not live overwhelmed by the anxiety that information overload can produce, we need to learn to pay attention to what really matters at all times.

As I already mentioned a few months ago in the article Your email is not a to-do list, living in your email is not exactly the best way to stay focused on what is important. The terms “communication” and “work” are dangerously confused there. Email is only a means of communication and, of course, communication is part of your job… but only a part.

Not everyone thinks so. I know it because many new FacileThings users ask, in their first days of use, how they can receive all their email from Outlook, Gmail, etc., into their application inbox. They can’t. And that is intentional. If you want to be productive while living more relaxed, you cannot be constantly at the mercy of interruptions and what others want, without seeing clearly what tasks you have to do within a sea of emails.

It is pretty hard to get rid of this wrong addiction that has been somehow imposed on us by today’s corporate world. Living in the email makes us feel “connected” to others, and seeing how emails come in to reply immediately makes us feel “busy” and “valuable”. In my opinion, all those feelings are unreal as well as harmful—they do not help us to do our job better and certainly they do not reduce at all our stress level.

Want to start feeling really productive? Want to reduce your stress? You just need to do these two things:

  1. Separate your to-do list from your email. Not all emails are tasks or all tasks come from emails. And one email can contain several and different tasks. And the subject of the email does not identify the task well. And it can not be modified. And you can not prioritize… Need more reasons? Use email to communicate and a task management tool to identify the things you have to do, organize them and carry them out. Even with pen and paper, take your tasks out of your email. Only in this way you will be able to have a clear picture of what you have to do and decide what is the best way to spend your time.
  2. Establish specific times to work with your emails. How many? It depends on your work, but try them to be the least possible. The maximum should be 2 or 3 times per day. In those fixed times, open the email program, check what new stuff have come in, answer the emails that need a reply, reorganize them emptying the inbox and create new tasks (if any) on your task management tool. Preferably, choose these times at the end of other work blocks, so the email does not condition your planning. Out of this specific times, the email program should be completely off. Disable all the notifications that your mobile devices would send you.

Just two things. That simple. Try to do them for two or three weeks and I am sure that you will never fall back into the trap of an email-driven life.

Francisco Sáez

Francisco is the founder and CEO of FacileThings. He is also a Software Engineer who is passionate about personal productivity and the GTD philosophy as a means to a better life.

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