This Masterclass is all about taking control of your inbox. Your inbox is a To Do List that anyone in the world can add to at any time.“Technology is a good servant, but a bad master.” So says Francis Bacon - well almost - the original quote was about money - but it makes sense nonetheless which is why Gretchen Rubin adapted it. Email, is there to serve you, not to dictate how your day goes, take up all your time or stress you out.
By the end of this masterclass you will have an understanding of how dealing with your email as you currently do can make you less effective rather than more. You will feel inspired to take control of your inbox and make it work for you and you will be in a possession of the knowledge to do so.
The Issues with Constant Email Checking
This Masterclass is all about taking control of your inbox. Your inbox is a To Do List that anyone in the world can add to at any time.“Technology is a good servant, but a bad master.” Email is there to serve you, not to dictate how your day goes, take up all your time or stress you out. But the trouble is, most people are in some way controlled by their inbox. Whether it’s because they spend all day reacting to emails in their inbox and they never get on to the really important strategic stuff that they intended to work on that day, or whether the rising number in the red circle affects their ability to relax over the weekend or on holiday. Not being able to switch off from email is a bad thing. It’s bad for your day to day effectiveness and it’s a bad thing for your mental health. It’s also not always the best way of communicating.
By the end of this video you will have an understanding of the make up of your email inbox as well as the fear you have of being disconnected. You will feel keen to take control of it and you will be able to address the issues you have regarding your inbox and enable yourself to move forwards into a more effective working pattern.
So the questions are: How busy do you feel at the moment? How often do you feel overwhelmed?
And Do you sometimes feel as though you have been busy all day but not achieved anything?
If you answered any of these questions using often, sometimes, very or incredibly then the chances are that you are in some way controlled by your inbox. The trouble is email often interferes with how quickly you get your work done. Anything that slows down the speed with which you get your work done is going to contribute to your feelings of busyness, which in turn contributes to feelings of overwhelm which is contributed to by the feeling of being busy but ineffective. If you don’t feel as though you are getting your ‘real’ work done then you will fairly quickly feel out of control. So let’s see how much of an impact email has on your day.
How often do you check your email during the day? Is it 3 times a day, Every hour or Constantly?
How often do you check emails on an evening or weekend? Is it Every evening + weekend, Occasionally or Never
And What percentage of your emails really need attention within the hour? Is it 80%, 50-80%, 20-50%, 10-20% or less than 10%
So let’s look at them in turn. If you check your emails constantly and every evening and weekend then you are not as effective as you could be. It’s not going to help you hit target or help customers and this is how we need to start thinking.
The final question is a tough one. Why is it a tough one to answer? Makes us take responsibility. I know there are some people in this room thinking, she doesn’t get how it is for me, how it is in my job. And I might not, totally, but I know that every single person who acts on the knowledge they gain and reflection they do in this session benefits by retaking control of their inbox.
There is no one in this room whose inbox needs to rule their life. No one who needs to be reactive 24/7 or even whenever they are at work. We are all a little bit dispensable. Who answers your emails when you are in a meeting? When you are travelling to work? When you’re at a doctors appointment? You are able to step away from your inbox for an hour or more, at various intervals during the day, I promise you. But we are scared of letting go, scared of what might happen if we’re not there to check each and every ping. So I want you to have a think about that for a moment. What are your fears about not being as connected as you are at the moment? What do you fear will be the consequences? Pause the video and take a moment to make some notes in your workbook.
Okay so what are some of our fears about not being as connected as we are used to being. Some people might be scared they’ll miss out on some important bit of information, that they might miss an email regarding a sale from a customer, that their boss might not think they are working (especially if we’re working from home that day, for instance), that if they don’t keep on top of emails as they come in that when they go back to their inbox there’ll be too many to deal with, we also don’t want our bosses to feel they can cope without us perhaps, or we want to show ourselves as being always on top of everything, we might fear we’re not providing a quick enough response for our clients. There are many fears of reducing our connectivity during the day. So I want you to ask yourself the question now, ‘what’s the worst that can happen’ if you reduce your email checking throughout the day? And then, how likely is that?
Let’s explore those fears a bit more:
A major fear of people is that they will Miss out on important information. When we’re talking about reducing our email connectivity we’re talking about reducing it, not stopping it altogether. You’re not going to completely stop reading emails, you’re just going to control how often and how long you spend looking at them during a normal working day. You will still see everything that comes into your inbox, you just might not see it immediately. If it’s really important information then it’s unlikely to require an answer within the hour. If it does, then it’s perhaps something that would have been better being dealt with by a phone call. As long as we have communicated clearly to people that if they have anything they need our opinion on urgently then it’s better to call, then there’s no reason for us to ever miss out on anything time critical.
The next fear we mentioned was Missing sales emails or customer service emails: The thing to understand about emails is that, as important as they are to doing our job, they are not our whole job. There are other aspects to our jobs that are extremely important too and that we must carve out time to work on if we are to move forwards. If part of your role is to answer emails then ask yourself who steps in when you are in a meeting or if you are away on holiday? If your job is to answer emails then you probably have a support team available. This team can be used on a daily basis to support each other having some email free time to move forwards on strategically important stuff. If, by sharing responsibility for answering emails, you can all have one hour per day to work on strategic things then that’s 5 hours a week, 20 hours a month, imagine how much you can progress strategically just by doing that. All it takes is a conversation and a bit of teamwork.
The next fear was that our Boss might not think we are working hard: many people are concerned that if they do not reply immediately to an email from their boss, day or night, then their boss will think they’re not working hard enough. The truth is that people get conditioned to response times and that if you always reply immediately your boss, or your customers, or team, will get used to it and they will then expect it. They will value your time less than their own because you are always seemingly available. This creates a rod for your own back, it’s a vicious circle. Your boss should judge you by your results not by your speed at answering emails. They should be more concerned with the work you are producing. If this is the case for you then you need to have a conversation about a new way of working that you are going to start trying to see if you become more effective.
Another fear was Too many emails to deal with later: there are the same amount of emails. There are no more, if you only check a few times a day, it only seems that way. In fact research shows that the greater the number of emails you send the greater the number of emails you receive. So it makes sense to not send emails for large parts of the day if you can help it. Many people have a fixation with keeping their inbox number below a certain number, or at zero. You have to get over that as it’s not an effective way of working. Again, you are allowing your inbox to control your priorities for the day, which isn’t a good idea, as your inbox doesn’t have a brain, can’t make rational or strategic choices and is contributable to by anyone on the planet, including people you have never heard of and who only have their own agenda.
The final fear mentioned was I want to show my boss I'm on top of everything: I understand this one but it’s bad logic. As I said earlier answering your bosses email immediately only shows them you are on top of your inbox, literally. You can’t possibly be working effectively on something more important, like sales, or reports, or accounts, or whatever you’re actually employed to do if you’re sitting in your inbox constantly. If my team responded immediately consistently I’d start to get concerned about what they were actually doing. Why? Because you can’t do good work and answer your emails at the same time. It’s just impossible.
So What are the problems of constant email checking? We have spent some time listing the reasons that we fear not checking constantly but why is that actually a bad thing. Well, as I just said, you can’t do good work and email check. Because checking your emails and breaking off to reply to them breaks your concentration. This is a problem because research shows that it takes about 6 minutes to get back into focus on the task we were originally working on. 6 minutes! That means if you get interrupted by an email alert sliding over the screen 10 times in an hour that you have spent that hour working in a state of semi-distraction and that means that good quality, effective work has not been done. Sure you may get by on doing bad quality work ineffectively but it’s not what you aim for is it? It’s not what you said you’d do when you were interviewed for the job. It’s not what you dream of. If you open all day focussing on keeping on top of your inbox rather than focussing on getting great quality work done then you are what is called a busy fool - busy all day but not effective, working in semi-distracted state.
We really need to examine our inbox focus and email responses so that we can work most effectively, rather than so we can keep the little red circle number at a level we are comfortable with. It takes a shift in focus and priorities.
What I want you to do now that this video is coming to an end is think about how often you could get away with checking your emails every day and still perform your job to the expected standard? Is it Once a day, Twice a day, Three times, Is it Every 2 hours or even Every hour. Your effectiveness will be hugely increased if you even reduced your checking to once an hour as you could potentially have 7 or 8 lots of 45 minutes of focussed work throughout the day.
When you have thought about how often you could reduce your checking to then think about What the benefits of reducing time spent on emails would be to you. Think specifically, so not just ‘I’d be more effective at work’ but ‘It would mean I could get the monthly reports done in half the time, rather than being interrupted all the time.’ ‘I could focus on my strategic list every day for at least an hour.
Think of the things that would help you be more effective in your work and whether reducing time on emails would help that? Write some notes in your workbook.
How to Deal with Your Inbox More Effectively
How many emails do you get each day? For some people it’s hundreds for others it’s 30 or 40 but for most people the answer to this question, whatever the level, is too many. But then we need to ask ourselves another question. How many emails do those emails then generate? How many CCing emails do we get? Or ‘for info only’ emails? How many spam? How many marketing updates for things we bought once? How many emails about things we have ordered online. For each item we order we get something like 4 or 5 emails regarding it’s progress through the process on its way to us. We are bombarded with email every single day.
In this video we are going to look at how to control our inbox rather than let it control us. By the end of it you will have the knowledge you need to take control of the influence that your inbox has on your life. You will feel empowered to take that control and you will be in possession of the knowledge you need to deal with emails effectively while maintaining control over the time in your day.
Even when we go on holiday we find it difficult to not check in on our emails as it makes it easier for us on our return. Or, it’s better just to know what’s going on. Let me tell you, it’s not. It’s better that you have a proper break, where you and your brain get to rest, recuperate and enjoy family and/ or relaxing time away from the demands of your workplace.
I want us to think about what the perfect email procedure would be. Or inbox. What would it be? Well for me it would be that I would only check it on a morning, that I would then sort the emails by their priorities and reference, I would file it all away or deal with it as appropriate and then I would leave that session with my inbox figure being at zero. Am empty inbox, can you imagine it??
But it would also mean that I could have every evening, every weekend and every holiday not looking at my emails at all. Knowing they were under control, that no one would be getting angsty about a lack of response and that I would be able to deal with the manageable levels of them when I got back to the workplace.
So First of all I want you to imagine what it would that feel like in a world where you had the perfect inbox/email procedure, the perfect email life.
Focus on what it would feel like first before we talk about how to get it or whether it’s practical. Many people get hung up on the ‘ah but I can’t do that, before they have even thought about whether it could really happen with a bit of planning and forethought. So, what does it feel like to have the perfect inbox procedure and perfect inbox life? Pause the video for a few moments and make some notes on your worksheet.
Life with the perfect inbox would for most people feel very relaxing. We are so used to being able to be contacted at all times that it seems unfathomable for us that we could not be at the beck and call of our mobile device, our laptop or phone or ipad. I often go out on a weekend without my phone and it feels great. Though I might not be on my phone even if I had it in my pocket on a walk, not having with me at all frees my mind in ways I was surprised about when I first experienced it. Somewhere deep down my subconscious knew that I was completely uncontactable, and it was liberating. In truth I had forgotten it, that first time, I’d walked into town for a few things and when I thought about something I should have told my husband I realised I’d forgotten it. I then thought, I’ll text him and let him know…oops. We are so used to the convenience of having it with us that we don’t realise the effect it’s having on us all of the time.
So, having the perfect inbox procedure starts, I believe, by acknowledging that there are times when we can be completely without access to an inbox at all. If we start with the end in mind, as Stephen Covey says, then we know where we’re aiming for. So, how to get there.
What we need to know in order to start is how long we can last between checking our inbox and still do our job effectively. If it’s 24 hours great, but for most people it’s not that much. Most people need to check their inboxes a few times a day at least, so are we talking morning and last thing, or morning, lunchtime and last thing, like I do, or are we talking every 3 hours, 2 hours, every hour. It’s up to you. But the longer you can last between checks the more effective you will be at getting strategic rather than reactive work done.
So, once you have decided that the next most important thing to do is to communicate that to all those who have a stake in your effectiveness, so that’s definitely your boss, your team, your peers, your customers. I do this with a footer on my email that says ‘to be most effective I only check my emails morning, lunchtime and last thing’ and that if anything needs more urgent attention than that then they should give me a call. I have lots of positive comments on it from people so people do read your footers. It’s a great way of keeping it in their minds so they don’t forget.
A footer is one thing, and it’s a great way, as I say to keep your way of working in everyone’s mind but if you are changing a way of working to accommodate this new email regime then what you need to do is let major stakeholders know upfront. So I would recommend sending everyone to whom it really applies an email saying that you are trying out a new way of working (using the word ‘trying' means that people won’t panic immediately, and it doesn’t sound as though you are imposing a new way of working on someone else) and in this email you are telling them that it involves you only checking your email at the intervals you have decided. Communicate that you ‘hope’ (again a tentative word to set the right tone) that this will make you more effective so you can be a greater support to them. People always want to know how it’s going to affect them so tell them upfront that you hope it’s a positive effect and they will experience the benefit of it.
Then it’s really important that you stick to what you have decided. Put a sticky note in front of you to remind you that when you need to look up from what you’re focussing on you don’t automatically click on your inbox icon. It’s so habitual, so easy to do that we need to acknowledge it and prepare for the fact that we will end up in our inbox without even realising.
If you don’t stick to it you will be dragged back into inefficiency. Because, once you are in your inbox, you will start answering emails. And then that sends the messages to all those you told that you wouldn’t be doing this, that you are still available as normal and they will continue to expect an immediate response and we’re back in that vicious circle again. So it’s really really important that you stick to it.
I do occasionally go into my inbox at times outside my remit if I have the time, but not often. And not often enough for people to cotton on, I don’t think.
Once you are dealing with your inbox like this then you realise you have time to do the actual work you’re paid to do. Even if your time blocks are only 45 minutes, you can get a huge amount done in a fully focussed 45 minutes. Do it for a day and you’ll realise how much gets crossed off your to do list.
Decide now when you will schedule the checking of your inbox into your day.
To take it further you can engage in Deep Work for an hour or so a day. I go into Deep Work and it’s benefits in another video but it’s a great way of moving strategically along consistently.
So that’s how to deal with your inbox effectively from a focussed work point of view. But how do we deal with the emails once they’re in our inbox? Well there’s a great and very easy technique to make sure you are as effective as you can be. It’s the 4 Ds: Deal, Delegate, Delete and Diarise. That’s Deal, Delegate, Delete and Diarise. PAUSE
If you can get into the habit of dealing with all your emails like this then it is possible for you to get to the holy grail of inbox management - the empty inbox. Your inbox is under your control. You can do this, if you want to, and if you put the effort required to change your own habits and behaviours and those of the people who communicate with you by email.
So, Deal, Delegate, Delete and Diarise.
Deal - if it is going to take less the 2 minutes, deal with it right now and get it done, sorted, off your plate. But only during your dedicated email time, not just when it comes in to your inbox - that’s old behaviour.
Delegate - if you have a team you should consider the delegation potential of every item that comes across your desk. You should delegate things that someone else can do, that someone else wants to do, that someone paid less than you can do, that would develop someone else’s skill set and that someone else can do more quickly than you. If you can delegate it, send it across to them immediately with as many instructions as are required and a date that you will check in regarding progress, if required.
Delete - if you don’t need it delete it asap. If it’s spam, or marketing that you’re not interested in at the moment, get rid of it. People think they have to reply to everyone who emails them explaining that they’re not interested. If you have time and you can be polite, great, but if not, don’t worry about it, delete and move on. There is a caveat to this though. If it’s something that will keep emailing you, clogging up your inbox then it’s best to take a moment to reply and request no further emails, or to unsubscribe so you prevent later clogging.
Anything that you need to do that can’t fit into the above categories you need to diarise at a time that you are working on similar tasks if possible. This is called Chunking - we explore this in a separate video under Time Managament. Chunking is a very efficient way of working. If you can attach it to a calendar date in your system. If you can’t file it in a place where you can find it when you need it.
Don’t acknowledge receipt unless it really needs doing. So many pointless ‘thanks’ and ‘okay’ emails are whizzing round the globe each day. If you do have to acknowledge receipt, consider if you can do it in the subject headline with an EOM (end of message) added on so the recipient knows they can delete your message without going into the body of the email.
What I want you to do now is to schedule email checking into your calendar. Don’t worry about it, just do it. Every journey starts with a single step. This is your first step towards really taking control of your inbox. You can do it. You can be more effective and this is the best way to do it. You won’t believe how much better it is to not allow email to control your day. Do it now.
How to Write More Effective Emails
In this video we’re going to discuss how many of the emails we get are what I would term ‘Low quality” emails. What do I mean by this? I mean they’re quickly fired off with not enough information in them for the recipient to make a decision or an efficient response, or perhaps they’re not clear enough, or have others cc’ed unnecessarily. All of those reasons create unnecessary email traffic, back and forth exchanges that mean it takes 10 emails to arrange a meeting instead of 2, bad practice that means an extra 300 emails take place in your small business every single day, adding up to hours of inefficiency every single year and hitting your bottom line as well as your mental health.
By the end of this video you will have a system to write effective emails. You will feel comfortable, knowing that your emails waste no one’s time, including your own, and you will be able to work in an effective manner.
Earlier I spoke about low quality emails. In your workbook I’d like you to note down what you think the problems of low quality emails are. Pause the video and do it now.
So, What are the problems of low quality emails? Pause Low quality emails essentially waste everyone’s time, they take too long to read, there’s not enough information in them so another email has to be sent seeking clarity or further information, there are typos in them, as they are fired off quickly, which projects an unprofessional image, or the tone can be read as unpleasant, accusatory or negative in some other way which can lead to conflict. In essence low quality emails are lazily written and frustrate not only the recipient but the speed with which business is done, or clarity of communication is achieved.
In order to make sure our emails are always effective we need to follow the BIFF method, that is keep our emails Brief, Informative, Friendly and Firm. That’s Brief, Informative, Friendly and Firm.
People are very busy these days and receive hundreds of emails every day. If your email is long and doesn’t get to the point straight away you’re likely to be deleted without even being read, unless you know the recipient, in which case you will just irritate someone. Is that what you want to do to someone you know, a customer, a colleague? Probably not. Keep your emails brief and get to the point quickly.
If you don’t know the recipient, for example, if it’s a cold email, then don’t engage in small talk. Don’t ask how they are at the start of the email, get straight to the point. “ Hi John, I’m emailing because Kate Smith said I should get in touch. I need some help with…” You can always end your email with ‘Hope all is well with you. Kind regards, Laura”
Be brief but also as informative as possible. If you’re asking for a meeting provide the dates you can do for the relevant time period. Suggest a location or two if appropriate so all of the response can be in one email. Back and forth emails to arrange a meeting are one of the things I find very frustrating. Don’t just say you can’t make it, suggest more dates and times so the email traffic is kept to a minimum.
Make sure you attach anything that should be there. To help prevent inadvertent sending without an attachment don’t put the recipient in until the very end. This should allow you time to do a check before your fingers send it without the final confirmation from your brain that you’re done and it’s ready to go. Sit back, think, is there anything else they need to make a decision or move forwards right now, that I can provide. If there is, include it, as briefly as you can.
With brief and informative in mind we must also be aware that email can be a sterile medium of communication and the tone easily misread. Some businesses have an email charter that states that ‘fluff’ is not required on internal emails. This can be efficient but be aware that it can make emails sound too blunt and perhaps offensive at times.
It takes no time at all to type a pleasant ‘hi, hope you’’re well’ or ‘hi, gorgeous day, isn’t it?’ Before you launch into your reason for emailing. It sets people off reading your email in the right frame of mind. Perhaps in many thousands of years we’ll have evolved to not bother about the social friendly fluff but right now it still matters to us. So, be friendly. Be aware that your recipient may be having a bad day and make sure that your email doesn’t add to it.
Sometimes when I’m typing something and I just want to get the message of what I’m saying down on paper I’ll do that, then I’ll go back and do a bit of small fluff at the beginning. Taking the very small amount of time to reread what you have typed (checking for typos and sense and that everything is there) and to add a bit of fluff is an effective way of making sure you’re communicating in the way that will get the best most effective response.
The final F is firm. By this I don’t mean you have to be harsh, just firm. Firm is clear to everyone, not wooly. Wooly doesn’t help people make decisions or keep projects on time. “I need to know by end of day Friday but preferably before’ is firm and clear. If the tone of your email is friendly then this firmness is fine. If you don’t bother with fluff and then are firm then you might annoy people so make sure you get it right. People like to know what’s what and a bit of firmness provides that clear boundary and keeps everyone on track.
So that’s BIFF - brief, informative, friendly and firm.
Right, now that we are coming to the end of this video what I want you to do is draft your email to the stakeholders in your life who need to know about your new email handling policy. I’ll give you an example of one that’s BIFF and you can either adapt it to your needs or send it as it is. So here it is:
Hope you’re all well and enjoying the sun.
I’m writing because I have decided to trial a new way of working - trying to increase my effectiveness after all these years! Anyway, one thing is that you have to go without answering emails for periods of time during the day. I’m trialling going for 2 hour slots in the morning and again in the afternoon to see if I can get more of the actual work done and back to you quicker. I’ll check my inbox before and after. I’ll let you know how it goes! I’ve let everyone know who needs to know. Hopefully you’ll see some improvement. :)
Have a fab day
You can also draft a footer for your emails. Here’s mine: To be most effective I only check my emails first thing, at lunchtime and before the close of play. If you need to contact me more urgently than that then give me a call on my mobile.
Both message are brief, informative, friendly and firm. I have had no adverse comments on my footer, only positive ones from people who wish they were brave enough to do it too.
So, make your first steps into a more effective way of working and get these emails drafted, checked and then sent out to this who may notice and benefit from being informed. Do it now, while it’s in your mind, that’s the most effective way of working. Don’t think you’ll do it later, it’ll take you longer to get your mind in gear again. It’ll only take 2 minutes if you do it now.
The Amazing Practice of Deep Work
In this video we’re going to talk about the amazing practice of incorporating Deep Work into your daily schedule. Deep Work as a concept is based on Cal Newport’s book of the same name. It’s one of the best books I’ve read in the past 5 years and will hugely affect your effectiveness and productivity. By the end of this video you will have an understanding of the concept of Deep Work, you will feel excited at he protect of being able to become much more productive and you will feel as though you have a pathway guiding you forwards towards effective working.
In his book, Deep Work, Cal Newport explains how we are all essentially working in a state of semi-distraction almost the whole time. Email and social media come in for rather a battering in the book, and with good reason. If you haven’t watched our series on the Tyranny of Email then it’s very definitely worth your while as it will help you get some Deep Work time scheduled into your diary which is what we want you to have done by the end of this video.
Deep Work refers to work in a state of complete focus with no distractions. Newport refers to it as work that is new, ground breaking, that only you can do, but there’s no requirement for this narrower definition. I prefer thinking of Deep Work as work that you do in a state of complete focus with no distractions. It means you can incorporate it into your life without disrupting the other things you have going on in life. At its most extreme Deep Work is the process of going distraction-free for long periods in order to write a book, or a research paper, but in reality most of us have to do a daily job as well as move forwards on strategic plans so this is how I will be advising you to use it.
When I first read Deep Work, and I thought about it, I realised that in a way I had been using the idea of Deep Work for my whole life. When I was under pressure at university, to get essays done, or at work with various deadlines, I got up earlier and earlier so that I could use my best cerebral time, the time when my brain was most alert, to get the thing done most effectively without the usual distractions of life. I went to Oxford University when I was 38 and whenever it came time for my essay writing to start, I’d done all the reading, I had my argument planned out, I knew where I was going with it, I’d stop, leave it overnight and then get up super early (4 or 5am) and as soon as I got downstairs I’d start writing - no email checking, no getting showered, or dressed, or mooching on social media. I’d walk downstairs, get a cup of tea, open my laptop and start writing. By 9am I had the bulk of the essay done with the rounding arguments only to type. It meant I never missed an essay deadline in my 5 years there, unlike most others. At Oxfor the workload was high. We wrote an essay once a week during the terms, for which we generally had to read 5 or more novels, plus numerous secondary literature written about those novels or the authors. Deep Work got me through.
I also remembered that I used to do this when I was under pressure at work, before my return to University late in life. Getting up early and cracking on in a focused, undirected manner always had been my best defence against overwhelm.
So, I started bringing it back into my working practice again and my productivity shot up. This is how I did it.
I had a think about how I could get 1-2 hours of undistracted time every day. As a business owner with a team at work, a job that requires a lot of client contact time and a small child this was a challenge. I started by thinking about when was my best time to work. My best brain time, and I came back to early morning. In the afternoons I can often be lacking in brain focus so I deliberately plan client meetings and coaching in those time slots. I need the energy of others to do my best work in the afternoons. But the morning was my best time. At that time I had been doing my fitness in the morning before I went to work so that would have to be rescheduled. I couldn’t waste my good brain time doing exercise that realistically I could do later in the day. But what to do about the mornings, my daughter generally woke up at about 7 and, if I didn’t have to be on the road by then, I liked to have breakfast with her and drop her off at childcare. So that meant I needed a time slot before 7 in order to get my deep work in. I wanted to give myself a good slot so I started getting up at 5.30am, straight downstairs, cup of tea, laptop or notebook open, depending on what I was working on, and cracking on. I’d usually get a good hour, hour and fifteen minutes in before I needed a stretch, another cup of tea, to get up from the desk. But that was enough, and over the weeks I was cranking out more work than I’d done in ages. Articles about leadership, new designs for masterclasses we were doing, reviewing our existing courses. I was doing the strategic, what Stephen Covey would call quadrant 2 stuff, that’s the important but not urgent stuff, that had been sitting on the back burner for too long. It felt great.
But I did have to make an adjustment and that was that I had to get to bed earlier every night which impacted on my time with my husband of course. I am always speaking to my customers about the importance of sleep. I can’t overstate it. If you’re not getting enough sleep you cannot be the best you. You can’t be effective, you can’t be calm and patient and lovely. Sleep is a must. So, given that I was getting up at 5.30am I needed to be in bed for 9.30pm in order to get my 8 hour sleep opportunity that is acknowledged by sleep experts as the golden amount. The trade off was very well worth it. In fact it’s allowed my husband a bit of time on his own to watch the zombie tv he likes, without me, or to play on his xbox for an hour or so before he comes to bed. It works for us. The only thing I’m missing out on is an extra hour of faffing about, or tv and that’s something I’m willing to sacrifice in order to be as productive as I am.
In lockdown this practice has enabled me to keep working at a productive rate while homeschooling and coaching on zoom for several hours a day. It’s a great way of working for me.
So, what I’d like you to do now is pause the video and come up with 10 things that you could be working on in Deep Work time that would be helpful for you and increase your productivity. Pause the video and do it now.
So now you should have a list of about 10 things that you could work on during Deep Work time. It’s really important to know what you’re going to work on before you start your deep work slot as otherwise you waste time thinking about it, getting what you need etc etc. You should be able to sit down and crack on with minimal time wastage.
Now you need to have a think about when you could schedule some deep work time into your day. Start by thinking of how your brain works best, and when. I like to have complete quiet, but others like to have a bit of background noise. I like to be at a desk but perhaps you can work on a sofa or a bean bag or in a coffee shop. In order to maximise your gains in Deep work time you need to be aware of what situation benefits your concentration the most. Ideally you need a few hours per week in order to reap the benefits. These could be split into hour long sessions or booked out as one or two sessions, it’s up to you and your diary and your work requirements fit. But you need at least an hour as a single period in order to get something valuable done. Ideally it would also be at the same kind of time every day, or every Tuesday or whatever so that the people around you can get used to it too. If you need to get into work and start everyone else off before you start your one work then could you potentially do deep work from 10 - 11 every day without it impacting on others too much? Or could you do the first hour you get into the office, with a do not disturb sign on your desk? Or does 5-6 work better for you when many people have left for the day? So with all that in mind, when could you schedule in some deep work time? Pause the video and have a think right now.
So, now you should have a list of 10 things you could do in deep work time and an idea about when it could fit into your diary. The most important thing now is to do it! And that may well take the support of others around you so you need to communicate your plans to them so there’s no misunderstandings about your decision. Ideally you explain why you’re working this way in a brief, informative, friendly and firm email, if you can’t have a conversation with them. Something like this:
Hope you’re all well and enjoying the sun.
I’m writing because I have decided to trial a new way of working - trying to increase my effectiveness after all these years! Anyway, one thing is that you have to fit in periods of deep work during the day. These are periods where I work with no distractions at all. I’m trialling going for 2 hour slots every morning between 8 and 10. It’s so I can get more of the strategic work done. I’ll let you know how it goes! I’ve let everyone know who needs to know. Hopefully you’ll see some improvement. :)
Have a fab day
It’s also best to have some kind of signal on your desk that it’s your deep work time as people can’t be expected to remember your schedule as well as their own. You could have a sign saying ‘Deep Work in Progress’ or you could wear a deep work cap or something like that. You can also suggest that you’ll support other colleagues who want to give it a go too. Workplaces that have incorporated this practice have seen their quadrant 2, strategic productivity rise hugely. It becomes a shared language that all can use to get on with the important stuff beyond actually doing the day job.
So, we’re now drawing to a close and I want you to send those emails, have those conversations and get those regular deep work periods booked into your calendars. If you can’t start this week, or next because of your diary commitments get them booked in as soon as possible at he desired time going forwards. In order to capitalise on your enthusiasm now though I suggest getting a couple of hours booked in in the next week so you can at least feel as though you have benefitted a little from deep work sooner rather than later.
As always I’d love to hear your success stories, or help you with any difficulties you’re experiencing. It’s firstname.lastname@example.org To get in touch. Please do feel free to drop me an email. I love hearing from you.
Creating an Email Charter
In this video I’m going to talk you through how to set up an email charter that works for everyone in your business. By the end of it you will understand the benefits of having a charter, you will feel able to lead the way in terms of company procedure and you will be able to coach and guide your business towards completing the charter which will help you all work in the most effective and healthy way possible.
So, what is an email charter? An email charter is an agreed way of dealing with, writing and sending emails. It covers things like, do we send emails out of hours, who do we cc into emails, do we send ‘thanks’ emails, etc etc in order to be able to create a workflow that’s less encumbered by unnecessary email communication and people feel less pressured - whether during the working day or not - by their email inbox.
So, in order to start working towards a charter it’s important to find out what annoys people most about emails and email traffic. This can be done in a session where you’re all together or electronically - by email, with someone collating the results. It’s generally the case that people find the same things irritating, whether that’s too mcc cc’ing or too many company-wide emails about charity events or personal stuff, whether it’s that certain people email at 9 o clock at night or that people don’t respond at all.
When you have collated the list of ‘most irritating things’ about email in your business then you can go about suggesting a charter. Work through the points and think about ways in which traffic can be minimised to remove or mitigate the irritation. So, if it’s too much cc’ing then you might create a statement in the charter that says: ‘Only cc in those who need do nothing about the content of the email’ and to support the fact that this still creates email traffic ask everyone to create a rule in their inbox that all ‘cc’ed’ mail goes straight into a special mailbox that retains it for future reference but doesn’t clog up the main inbox. Those who do need to action anything in the email should be included in the top ‘to’ field so it’s directly addressed to them. This way people can be confident they don’t miss anything that they need to action but they won’t waste their time reading through an email to find that they didn’t need to do anything right now.
Other things that people have included on their charters are:
Make sure the subject field is accurate and relevant - if it’s an ‘fyi about changes in H&S policy’ then put ‘fyi about changes in H&S policy June 2020’ not just fyi. FYI means that if the person needs to find it again they have to open every fyi email to find which one it is. It takes a little more effort when sending emails but it pays off in the long run. And if you’re doing it then others in the office will too and it’ll make your email triaging so much easier as well as searching for anything in your inboxes at a later date.
Don’t reply with ‘thanks’ or ‘okay’ unless your reply will brighten someone’s day, for example, you may be the boss and your acknowledgement means a lot to someone, or unless you know they’ll be anxious without the reply. If you can reply with action, so if you are arranging a meet up then you can confirm a meeting is fine by entering it into your calendar and sending an invitation. This makes it clear that you are fine for that time/date.
Schedule emails to go out in working hours only - If you’re working on your emails in the evening schedule all your replies to go at 7.30 am or 8am when people are back up and ready for work, when they can action your replies. If you send them late at night people might read them late at night and it might affect their sleep. If they don’t read them, just knowing that an email has come through from you might make them less relaxed. You can also involve yourself in a I’m working harder than you type dialogue, which is a lose-lose scenario for everyone.
No fluff required - this is a controversial one as I think a bit of fluff in an email is a good investment of 5 seconds. If people miss out the opening ‘hope you’re well’ or ‘lovely morning’ then the email can seem a bit brusque, a bit harsh and the content can be taken like that rather than in the tone it is most probably meant.
Personal whole company email content to only go out once a week/month in the newsletter type email. That way people are not bombarded by bake sale, half marathon etc charity requests but are able to read about them all, and the antics of their colleagues in one sitting with a cup of tea.
For anything requiring a more urgent reply than within 24 hours a call should be made instead of an email sent - this is to enable those people practising deep work methods to be able to have confidence that they can do their deep work and not delay their colleagues or compromise the quality of service.
Colleagues who don’t abide by the charter will be reminded that it’s in everyone’s interest. As with all email charter rules, they only work if everyone obeys them.
So those are examples of frequently used email charter points. Your business might have ones that are more specific to your line of work. Feel free to adapt them as necessary.
The next thing to do when you have created your charter is to make sure that everyone knows about it and buys into it. Make sure that people are given a start date so they can have a period where they are gently reminded in centralised emails that the start of the email charter is approaching and they must abide by all the rules. It would help to have a company meeting where the charter is introduced with a bit of fanfare which would get everyone on board and looking forward to a working life less encumbered by email irritations.