Last year I wrote a post about treating your email inbox as a to do list. I have spent the last year honing in on those techniques, from saving my client’s emails in Evernote, to using the power Sanebox reminders. However while my inbox had become the model of organization I still found that much of my day was focused on ad hoc task requests that would pop up in my inbox.
Remember your inbox is someone else’s to do list. It is uncommon to have a personal email in your inbox (and if you are like me I have a personal email account to keep those separated from my work emails). I find that those who want to connect with you personally through digital media tend to send you a private message via Facebook or text.
Acknowledging I need time to focus on creative work
Here is what was happening>>> I am in a creative field of web and graphic design, however much of my job description includes things that aren’t creative. Such as updating content on a website, fixing broken links on webpages, images missing, or sites being hacked. Those tasks are often the ones that end up in my inbox daily.
However designing a postcard for a dentist office, or a new website for a relator I need uninterrupted creative focus.
This doesn’t mean that the non-creative part of my job isn’t as much of a priority as my creative work, it just means that it needs to fit into a different time slot than the creative work.
For me my creative focus is best in the mornings. If I start working on emails then, I will lose focus for the rest of the day losing my creative energy for my design projects. However in the afternoons I am not as creative and find that I can answer emails, and work on ad hoc work requests. Some days I am very creative the whole day and want to stay focused on the creative work; while other days I am have no creative energy.
Creative work requires inspiration I need to block out times to stay focused on my creative work, while ad hoc work requires focus but not inspiration. Therefore those tasks can fit into other times of the day and week.
In order to gain control and focus for my day I had to become a guardian of my creative energy. And for my job the inbox was the #1 place for this to start.
How to become a guardian of your creative energy
Batch check/respond to email
How often you have to respond to email will depend on what type of work you do. For me, I can do it every other day. You might have to do it twice a day. I make this a priority 2-3 times a week to set aside a block of time to respond to emails. Also, since much of my emails are ad hoc work requests, the block of time includes doing the requested work, or delegating that work to the following week if it needs a larger chunk of time.
My exception to my batch check/respond to emails is for large creative projects. For large projects, I use Teamwork to manage the correspondence. I check this often and respond promptly.
Set your weekly and daily goals then stick to them
I make a list of what task/s I will be working on for the week. Then each night I make a list of the top three tasks that I want to tackle the next day. This means that unless it is an emergency (site is down, site has been hacked… and so on) I do not put new tasks on my weekly task board.
If a task request is small during my batch check/respond, as I previously mentioned, I will do the task during this block of time. If not, the task is delegated to the following week.
This is where Sanebox really shines. I will move the emails into a folder called @sanenextweek. Then the email will pop back in my inbox on Monday morning. I known that I need to work on this on Monday because I put this on my calendar, and then the information contained in the email pops back in my inbox when I am ready to work on the task. I can use specific dates so that the email pops back up when I have scheduled the work request. For example I can have it pop back in my inbox on Wednesday at 7:30am.
Using Sanebox to have my emails pop back in my inbox when the work is scheduled allows me to zero out my inbox when I do my batch check/response.
Turn on canned responses in Gmail
I felt weird about this at first. I mean how annoying to get an auto response every time someone emails me. But here is why it works.
Before I had the auto responder, I batch check/respond to emails, however I found was I was saying something like this in every email
Hi John Smith,
I am very sorry it has taken me a few days to respond to you I have been behind on emails….
This was incorrect I was not behind on my emails or my work, I was batch responding to emails and felt the need to apologize since it had been three days since they emailed me. With the auto response my clients know that they will hear from me soon and if this is urgent what they need to do to contact me.
Here is an example of my canned response:
I’m checking/responding to email every other day. If it’s truly urgent (cannot wait a few days for my reply), please send me a text.
HOSTING ISSUES: Please text me at 555.555.5555
Active Design Project: If you have an active design project, please contact me via the project management system for a prompt reply.
Want to set up canned responses in Gmail. Check out the tutorial How to Use Canned responses in Gmail.
I also try to make it personal by adding a photo to the canned response and switch the photo out every few weeks.
Checking email less often is freeing
Once I started to check my email less often, I gained more time in my day. I have the same amount of emails but they are taking less time to check and respond to. I have seen an increase in my focus and creative energy.
In turn this is a good thing for my clients since they want me (heck need me) to be creative and give them my focus and attention to their project. After all their website and design projects are tied to their dreams and their life’s work. I am privileged that they trust me to share with the world via digital media and print what they do, their vision, and their dream.