Archive: November 29, 2017

Reaching InboxZero: a take no prisoners approach.

Student Results were released on Monday and this always generates a slew of email. For two days I’ve triaged and responded as quickly as I can to enquiries from students who expect to graduate at the end of the year and who want to understand the impacts of the grade I awarded them. For some, a swift response is required as they might be required to sit a supplementary exam and the results need to be forwarded to the graduations team if they are to attend the graduation ceremony next month. Others are serious but can wait for 24hours or so and some get shifted to the end of the pile as they are not time critical but I still have to action them.

After two days of fighting an incoming tide (and losing), I knew I had to get on top of this once and for all. Here’s what I did….

Step 1: Decamp to a lovely spot in a nearby park where there is no wifi, but lots of birdlife.

[Today’s remote office…]

Step 2: Open mail.app and work through the pile of email responding where appropriate or sending to OmniFocus as a task to be completed later. Since I’m not connected to wifi, emails that I respond to are sent to my outbox where they will wait until I’m back on wifi (at which point they will automatically send).
Step 3: Clear the decks entirely before returning to wifi-land.

It took two and a half hours of solid, focused work to wade through all the email and respond or Omnify it. The trick is to not be connected to wifi while processing the inbox, for if I had been responding and replying, potentially my correspondents might answer back. This would mean more email would come into my inbox and it’d take longer to clear.

Severing the connection works. Try it.

Batching email by people and therefore by project – a workflow to solve the email jigsaw puzzle problem

 

I’m constantly fighting to keep track of the time I’m spending on various projects. I want to spend enough time that they keep moving forward, but I don’t want to spend too much time so that other projects begin to suffer. To be able to effectively forecast how much time I need to allocate to a project or task, I need good data that I can extrapolate from. My latest attempt at tracking my time involves using an app on my mac called Timing.  Mostly it does a good job of tracking where I spend my time and it is reasonably easy to allocate time to particular projects once they are all set up. However, I am conscious that a non-trivial amount of my time is spent inside email and this time is not captured against specific projects. To get around this, I have begun sorting my email by sender and batch processing email.

The email jigsaw puzzle

I think of my email inbox kinda like a large box with lots of little jigsaw pieces in it. The problem is that I’m working on more than one jigsaw puzzle (project) at a time. Every day more and more jigsaw pieces get added to the box, but they are not added in a manner that makes to easy for me to work on one puzzle at a time. The result is that my attention becomes fragmented and the cognitive load increases as I try and bounce from one project to the next.

To get around this, I began to think of my email inbound process, not as a temporal flow of unconnected jigsaw pieces, but as to who was bringing those pieces to my inbox. Usually, people are attached to projects so instead of working my way down through a list of email each of which is likely to be unconnected to the email below it, I sort my email by sender and then batch process all the email from that particular person at the same time. The advantage of this is that when it comes time to review my day, I can quickly allocate chunks of time that I spent on my email to particular projects even though I was working on multiple emails. In this way, the invisible work of email management becomes accountable and I am able to get a more accurate view of how much a particular project is actually costing me in terms of time.

Now that I can visualise the actual time cost of email against specific projects, I can make better judgments about costing my time in the future. This is better for me, but also for others who I am working with. The best bit? If anybody asks, I can justify my time spend.

Below is a review of the Timing app should you be interested.