Technology has a way of making us work harder. We're reachable 24 hours a day and can handle multiple projects at a time. Yet, our human brains and bodies are not made to run nonstop at full speed. I've learned a few tricks for creatively using communication technology to give myself the gift of time. I don't consider it slacking off. In my opinion, I'm making the best of what's available to me.
We've all heard that we shouldn't interrupt our work by immediately answering the phone or checking new emails as they arrive. To avoid this, simply set your phone to "do not disturb" and turn off the email notification pop-ups. Then you can attack these communications on your own schedule — in between projects. This is Time Management 101. For those willing, I've found that you can take these ideas a step further.
Our voicemail messages all end the same way: "Please leave your message at the tone, and I will return your call as soon as possible." This results in a whole lot of messages to review and return. In our phone system, the caller can enter another extension number to go directly to someone else rather than leave a message. I've decided to change my voicemail ending to "If you'd like to talk to a human rather than leave a message, please dial 200 and Sylvia will get you to the right person." This option is actually preferred by clients, and it reduces the number of calls I need to return.
Email overload requires multiple tactics. To provide an acknowledgement right away without actually viewing the email right away, set up an auto reply each day. This is different than an out of office message. It is an automatic email delivered to the sender upon receipt. My message says something like "I'm in the middle of updating portfolios. I promise to get back to you before the end of the day." Changing the message every day makes this technique work well.
I also believe in taking some type of action whenever I first read an email. The action can be one of the following:
• Route the email to another employee to handle.
• Delete if it is not needed any more.
• Save to an appropriate folder if you will need to refer to it sometime in the future.
• Unsubscribe and delete.
• Respond with a delay note such as, "You've brought up a great question. This will require a little research, and I should be able to answer you by the end of the week."
As a result of these tactics, the only items that appear in my inbox are unread emails or emails that I have delayed.
The time you free up can be spent in ways other than just adding on more work. Consider taking a walk or fitting in a real workout. Go out to lunch. Spend some time each day unplugged and doing something regenerative. In the long run, this gives you much needed breaks to enable continued high quality performance and helps to avoid burnout.