Did you know that the average person spends about 28 percent of their work week on email management?
That’s more than two hours per day!
Sure, email is a fantastic tool for communication but used incorrectly it can become a major distraction and a time-waster. It’s not that email itself takes a significant amount of time – the reason it saps so much of our day is due to the constant starting and stopping.
You know how it goes: you’re writing a report, building a presentation, or analyzing some numbers and “ding,” you have a new email. So, you jump over to your inbox to respond so that you can keep your inbox under control, especially if you’re striving for inbox zero.
While having a clean inbox is excellent, trying to field every email as it comes in will derail your entire day, guaranteed. Instead, we can combine the practice of Time Blocking and the Four D’s of Email Management to take control of our inbox without losing control of our productivity.
Before We jump Into the Four D’s, Let’s Talk About Time Blocking
I’ve written a full post about time blocking here, and I’ve even covered it on the podcast here, but to give you a brief overview of time blocking: it’s essentially the practice of carving out pre-planned bocks of time on your calendar to deal with specific tasks.
Those tasks can be big, like putting together a sales pitch, or they can be many small tasks that have been batched. Email definitely falls into the small-batch category.
Once you’ve read all about time blocking, pick one or two 50-minute time blocks each day to work on email management. Then, proceed to the Four D’s below.
Now, The Four D’s of Email Management
The Four D’s are pretty straightforward: delete it, do it, delegate it, and defer it. Sounds easy, right? It is easy! The hard part is practicing the discipline of time blocking and then putting this into effect.
Deleting email is by far the quickest and easiest, and that’s why it’s first. When you first dive into your email management time block, go through your inbox and delete everything that is unimportant.
Don’t get distracted by email offers, sales, or coupons – delete everything that is going to waste your time. If you want to shorten this step for future weeks, start unsubscribing or blocking as many junk emails as you can so you don’t have to keep dealing with them every week.
It takes a little extra time on the front end, but it’s going to reduce your junk email over the long term.
Once you’ve got all of the trash emails out of your way, start working on all of the tasks that take five minutes or less. Five minutes is the key here. Because you’re in an email time block, your goal is email management, not large projects.
For every five minute task you knock out, you’ve completed an email. Whether you delete or folder those, get those emails out of your inbox and out of your way.
As you sort through your inbox, keep in mind that not all tasks need to be done by you specifically. For each task that you come across, ask yourself: “Could someone else could do this task?”
If so, forward the email to the person you that feel could complete the task and politely ask them to take care of it for you. Once you’ve forwarded that email, move it out of your inbox and out of your mind.
Lastly, you’re going to come across emails that contain tasks, projects, or meeting requests that are too big to tackle at that moment (longer than 5 minutes). When that is the case, you need to defer those emails by flagging them or placing them in a designated folder.
Then, you can circle back to them later and set up specific time blocks to complete those tasks.
The Four D’s in Action: Do They Work?
So, now that you’ve learned the four D’s you might be wondering if they really work. To answer that, we need to circle back to the beginning of this post. Email is an amazing communication tool, but if used incorrectly it can be a huge waste of your time.
The four D’s are a tried and true method for streamlining and optimizing the email management process, but they only work if you practice discipline and time blocking. Without those two things, it’s far too easy to fall back into the frantic game of whack-a-mole that keeps derailing your productivity.
Over to You!
Are you going to give the Four D’s a try? If so, are you going to strive for Inbox Zero using the Time Blocking method?
I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.