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The devil’s in the email

Average Reading Time: 2 minutes 50 seconds

It’s the start of a new year and many of us are returning to work full of good intentions.

Intentions to be more effective.

Aspirations to be more organised and to get that ever-elusive work-life balance just a bit better.

Dreams to be a better leader… to be the leader we wish we’d had ourselves.

And the truth is that many of us will stutter and stumble in the next few weeks. Which is fine as we’re all human and changing years of deeply entrenched habits is hard.

My purpose in this article is to share one ‘master-tactic’ or ‘work-place hack’ to give you the best possible fighting chance of making your 2019 ambitions a reality.


Going old-school

It focuses on going back to basics and going old-school.

We all know that we should prioritise, right? But so many of us fail to do it well. Or perhaps we start prioritising but find it too hard and just go back to dealing with the email that’s at the top of our inbox.

The reason that we struggle is that prioritising is an incredibly energy-hungry activity.

And if you’re like most of the people I work with, the first thing you do each day is check your emails. Which is also an incredibly energy-hungry activity.

Perhaps looking at your emails is the first thing you do at your desk whilst having your morning coffee? Or maybe you try and clear down a few emails on the train to work? It might even be that you’ve checked your phone and replied to a few before you’ve even made it to the shower!

Once you’ve done all of this your brain will be depleted of energy. You may also have been emotionally triggered by a particular email or event which is now severely impacting your ability to think clearly and plan ahead.


Out of sight, out of mind

The productivity hack therefore is to ensure that your phone is somewhere out of sight. This will enable you to spend the first 10-15 minutes of your day reflecting on the previous 24 hours and getting really clear on your priorities for the day ahead.

I call these priorities my Five Main Efforts. The five tasks that I’ll devote my attention to because I know that once they are completed, it will have been a great day.

And let’s be honest here, our inbox isn’t our to do list. This means that we don’t need to check our emails to plan our day.

“Our inbox is simply a list of someone else’s priorities.”


Go paper based

But we do need to see our calendar to plan our day… and a nice notebook or journal helps too! It makes planning a positive, pleasurable morning ritual as opposed to a chore.

But willpower and good intentions are never going to be enough to help us make this change. Checking our email first thing is a corporate habit that is just too strongly embedded in our brains.

I’m a disciplined person but I still don’t have the willpower to open my Outlook calendar without being hijacked by my inbox.

My solution therefore is to print out my calendar before I leave the office on a Friday and look at that each morning to plan out my day

Yes, it changes loads throughout the week.

Yes, I cross stuff out and write new stuff in.

And yes, I sometimes re-print it mid-week.

But that’s still loads better than being ambushed by my inbox every day – the devil that’s in the email.

And as Annie Dillard, a Pulitzer prize winner once said:

“A schedule defends from chaos and whim.”


Good luck and let me know how you get on.

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