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43 unread emails, 1713 emails in out inbox, 18 new letters in the mail, 33 ideas in our head, 4 piles of papers on our desk, 36 items on our to do list and a blinking answering machine. Our inboxes (electronic and physical) are constantly being filled with more demands on our time. To keep our sanity and be productive we must take a short time to “process” our overflowing inboxes and get it empty (or as close as possible). This will ensure that our task lists are filled with manageable tasks.
Here’s a quick mnemonic to making this process go faster and efficiently- use the 9 Ds: Delete, Deposit (file), Deflect, Deter, Delegate, Defer, Designate(calendar), Do Now, (To) Do List.
If an item is junk or you’ll never need it, get rid of it right away. Newspapers are trash(yesterday’s news is worthless), old magazines are trash(you’re not going to get to it anyway), junk email should be vaporized, old clothes go to good will, you get the idea. Bonus: figure out how to never deal with it again (e.g. unsubcribe from lists, sign up on do not call lists etc.)
File your reference information. Many of the files on your desk or old emails are no longer needed except as a reference just in case. If you think you’ll need it someday- just put it in a obvious file folder- out of site so when you’ll need it you can quickly find. Get it out of the way so it’s not cluttering your workspace.
If you are definitely the wrong person for this task then quickly point the requestor to the right place and get this out of your boxes. You don’t to do this immediately so you don’t hold up the project.
Learn how to say no. Not every request that comes to your inbox means you must do it. See if it fits within your responsibilities and/or goals. If not just say “no”.
There are some tasks that should be done but someone else can help you with it. If someone on your staff or your spouse etc can do it let them help you especially if they can do it better. Some people get in the mindset that only they can do a task, that they do it best. Given some else a chance. Keep in mind when you delegate you are not completely giving up the task, you will still get the last word and should keep a follow-up on your task list so the issue is done on time with quality.
Some tasks are interesting but it’s not important or urgent. Put it on your “someday/maybe list”. This way you’ll still have it on your radar but it wont clutter your mind. Examples of items to defer are painting the house (you dont have time for it now anyway), launching a completely new product etc or other tasks that you know aren’t needed in the near future.
Designate a specific time for an appointment. Just put it on your calendar and move on. An appointment should sit in one central place so you dont double book your time or miss appointments.
Any task that takes two minutes or less should be done quickly. No excuses- do it. It will feel great to shorten your to do list.
(To) Do List
All other tasks go on your “to do” list. Just get it out of your inbox.
This post was inspired by: Matthew Cornell’s post The Path of Maximum Productivity: Seven tensions, and how to resolve them. Thanks Matthew.