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Like Mahatma Gandhi says, "Action expresses priorities." This quote is taped to my truck’s visor as a reminder to stay focused on the important tasks of the day. However, this attitude about priorities falls apart when it comes to e-mail. There are a lot of important things happening in e-mail but it can command much more time than priorities suggest it should. So here are a few tips to help you grab the e-mail bull by the horns and make more efficient use of your time.
Switch to Web mail; dump Outlook. Web mail apps like Gmail, Yahoo! Mail, and Outlook.com provide much more flexibility and portability than traditional client-based e-mail. Your mail stays in sync with mobile devices and computers, and you can access it from any Web browser. I use Gmail and will discuss its features in this article, but Yahoo and Microsoft have similar features, too.
Archive and search versus file and delete. For years, e-mail clients were set up for filing messages. I had more than 50 folders to file my e-mail so I could find something I needed. Gmail changed all that with e-mail powered by Google search. Now, rather than dragging messages
between folders, simply archive and search for it later. You can tag messages with labels, which are similar to folders, but more flexible. I mostly label messages by project. This allows me to group messages from different people.
Automatically filter messages. The best way to clean up your inbox is by not allowing mail to get in there in the first place. Newsletters, mailing lists, and your cousin’s daily jokes should be automatically filtered with labels and excluded from the inbox. I subscribe to many newsletters about dairy news, markets and the like.
When those messages arrive in my inbox, Gmail labels them with names like "Dairy News" and "Commodity Markets," then archives them so they don’t show up in my inbox. Whenever I feel like reading newsletters, I simply click on the "Dairy News"
label and see what is in there.
Turn off notifications and check e-mail when you have down time. Interruptions kill productivity. Studies have shown that in addition to the actual time lost to interruptions, it takes 20 to 25 minutes to regain the level of focus we had attained prior to the disruption.
Turn off the e-mail notifications on your phone and don’t leave your e-mail program running on your computer while you are working. Check mail when you have down time or during specific times that you schedule for yourself, like first thing in the morning, then right after lunch.
Hopefully with these tips you will be spending less time on e-mail and more time with your cows,
because like Gandhi said, "The greatness of a nation can be judged by the way its animals are treated"—and we live in the greatest nation of all.
Delete, Archive, Reply, Star
When I am out and about and have a few minutes of downtime, I have a short routine I run on my phone. I take each unread message and do one of four things with it.
a) If the message is junk or something I am not interested in I delete it.
b) If the message is worth reading but doesn’t require a reply I archive it.
c) If the message can be answered with a few words I reply right then.
d) If the message is important and needs more attention I star it. When you star (or flag, depending on your webmail app) the message is marked as read but now has a star next to it.
When I return to the computer I select "Starred messages" and deal with what’s in there. Once dealt with, I remove the star and the message gets archived.
Dino Giacomazzi is the fourth generation to manage his family’s dairy farm near Hanford, Calif. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- June/July 2013