Some email and task management tips

This is a post about some email and task management tips you might find useful. I presented these during a talk at the Business Progression Group recently and it seemed to go down well, so I thought why not share…

These are a couple of areas where you can make the best of the time you spend working in your businesses. I want to provide you with some practical ideas that you can implement so you can start being more efficient straightaway.

Email management

The 2 minute rule – this one is simple – if have an action in your inbox that you can complete in two minutes, just do it! If it takes longer, file it in a Reply folder and add it to your to do list. When you have completed the task in the email, archive it.

Email handling – try and do this only 3 times during the working day. I know this sounds like an ask, but remember that you do need to get some work done during the day, so if you’re firefighting email all day, your to do list might suffer. I would suggest tacking email at 0830, 1230 and 1630 or whatever works in your working day. If you still find email overwhelming, cut out the 0830 check and do it at lunchtime.

Clear inbox every day to Inbox Zero by adding tasks from emails into your to do to lists. Great in theory you might say, but I know at least a couple of people who do this effectively.

Separate email into work and personal accounts, so you stay focused when you are working. You can check your personal emails when you take a break, at lunchtime or in the evening.

Task management

Collect all of your tasks in a physical and digital Inbox. Taken from David Allen’s Getting Things Done (GTD) methodology, these tasks are then out of your head and into a trusted system you reference and action daily. Simple. A notepad next to your bed (or your notes app on your phone) will work too for those moments when you wake up at night with a bright idea or a to do.

Start all of your to dos with a verb. Sounds simple and it is. This will help you save time and get things done. It’s a really simple trick and it works wonders.

For example: 

  • Email Alex about the website reports
  • Text Katie for her availability this Friday
  • Call Steve and ask which car mechanic he uses
  • Take the rubbish out

By starting your task with a verb, you know right away the context of what you have to do, so you don’t have to think about or remember what that word or phrase on your to do list means. Try and avoid using ‘Contact…’ because it’s too ambiguous as it could mean texting, calling, emailing and so on. When you read an action item on your list, there should be no confusion on what needs to be done.

Add time estimates to tasks. Sounds like common sense, but this will help you identify how long you need to complete a task, so perhaps you might have to break it down over a few days. It will also highlight when tasks aren’t really tasks, i.e. launch website. This is clearly a project and will need to be broken down into a number of tasks. A simple notation is to add (x minutes) following the task name, e.g. “Email Sail about the copywriting brief (20 minutes)”.

Have your next actions ready. Again, based on David Allen’s GTD, Next Actions are the tasks that have to be done to take the project forward. Big or small, identifying and tackling your next actions will help you overcome any barriers or bottlenecks too.

Review tasks once a week. You could look at this a little like a check up at the doctor or dentist to ensure everything is in working order. This shouldn’t take longer than 10 minutes and will highlight any tasks that need to be taken forward.

If you have any tips to add, please leave a comment and tell me about them. Thanks!

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