Blitz Your Email

Ever have one of those days when you get to 4pm and have NO IDEA what you’ve achieved? Chances are pretty good you’ve been “doing stuff” … checking your email, dealing with queries, answering your voicemail and possibly even getting the odd bit of work done … but you still don’t feel like you’ve had a productive day because everything has been reactive rather than proactive. Always-on can be fantastic, but being linked in to every possible distraction for every minute of the working day is often not the most effective way to work.

So what can you do about it?

Personally, I’ve had a great deal of success with a very simple strategy that is mainly about dealing with email distraction. Working in technology, I find that most of my communication comes in via email — if your main distractions are IM or phone, then you might want to adapt this.

Essentially the key concept is to do email blitzes. Don’t try to check email every 2 mins and deal with emails one-by-one. Instead, take an hour, or even a half or quarter hour and mission through as much email processing as you can. For each email that you read, decide whether it:

  1. Shouldn’t have gotten to you anyway –> delete it
  2. Just needed reading –> archive it
  3. Needs a response –> do it right then and there, if it’ll take less than 1 minute
  4. Needs a more indepth response –> leave it (or move to a “needs indepth response” folder)*
  5. Needs you to perform some action –> add it to your normal todo tracking system

I find that taking 30-60 minutes, twice a day, helps me to stay 100% on top of my email. The timings of the blitzes are important though — I find first thing in the morning and just after lunch are the best times for me. The former is because I’m in a role where sometimes there are urgent fires to be put out — others feel quite rightly than an alternative strategy can be more effective. The latter is because just after lunch is typically quite an energy lull — especially if you work in the North East where they believe in proper hot lunches!

At other points in my career, when I had different job responsibilities, I used to find that mid morning (after the initial “get stuff done” burst of early morning energy had passed) and mid afternoon (around 3pm, when everyone just wants to get a cup of tea) were the best times for my email blitzes.

Whatever the timings, though, restricting how much of my life I spent in Outlook or Notes or Thunderbird to just a couple of email blitzes a day has improved my productivity immensely.

Want more tips on managing your email? Try these links:

* I just leave things that need a more in-depth response in my inbox, which is against some of the Inbox Zero-style teachings, but then I easily manage to keep my inbox to less than a screen so I’m happy with my own process here 😉 YMMV.

5 Replies to “Blitz Your Email”

  1. I’ve been doing this for a while, although the downside is that I’ll sometimes go a day or two without a ‘blitz’ and have 500 messages to sort through.

    It really helped when I moved my email onto my laptop (which sits next to my desktop computer). I wake it up a couple of times a day to check email. I also have a Gmail account that notifies me of messages on my main computer – I use that one for crucial things like emergency contacts and “server gone horribly wrong” alerts.

    Oh, and be careful with “needs in-depth response” folders – I used to use that approach, but the folder became a black hole from which nothing ever emerged. There’s a fine line between good procrastination and bad…

  2. Oh, and be careful with “needs in-depth response” folders – I used to use that approach, but the folder became a black hole from which nothing ever emerged. There’s a fine line between good procrastination and bad…

    Mike, this is a great point and to be honest exactly why I DON’T use such a folder. Out of sight is out of mind — so personally I do a lot better if anything in my inbox that is bolded is unread and anything unbolded is todo.

  3. My gmail box has 4995 unread emails.

    I somehow never decide “right, I’ll never reply to these”. I generally use the unread todo approach, but with the volume I get, if it’s unread and more than 2 days old, I generally ignore it.

    … I obviously should unsubscribe from some mailing lists, but then how will I know everything? 😀

  4. It’s not just the personal email, i.e. the stuff that is for you, but all those mailing lists as well, I find. Especially when working in a bigger company you end up with 2 dozen mailing lists or so, bug notifications and whatnot.

    So just doing email blitzes won’t necessarily cut it, I believe. Although the concept is good. 🙂

    Interestingly enough I pondered the same thing the other day, mostly about productivity and/or distractions. So if you allow, I’d like to share the link.

    It’s not just about email but IM etc. as well. Most of it is obvious anyways, I think. I wrote this after seeing a lot of people struggle through their days; there were so many distractions, no wonder so many are stressed out all the time… 😛 I hadn’t seen your blog yet, and when a co-worker pointed me here today, I was delighted to see like minds. 😉

    Cheers from Germany,

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