My annual appraisal, my inbox and me

I’ve just submitted by appraisal for 2008-2009. Based on some great feedback, it says lots of nice nice things about being “a credible expert … working effectively with everyone from producers to channel controllers” and so forth.

The more interesting bits, and what I want to share here, are where I admit failings and suggest fixes. Most importantly, I’ve realised that that I need to prioritise the important stuff:

I need to free up additional time to focus on the more important things. Although I’ve been learning to delegate and escalate, I know that I’ll need to do more of both next year if I want to make a significant impact on the bigger projects

I’ve come to understand that I can’t do everything without going mad and I’m finally ready to admit to myself (and you) that I can’t realistically respond to every email:

I will respond to fewer emails, prioritise more and realise I’ll never reach the very bottom of the pile. I will especially avoid weekend working

For the past few months, I’ve been getting better at managing my inbox using an ‘inbox zero‘ approach, whereby I aim to finish every day with an empty inbox, even if it means a long – and growing – folder full of email to action. It’s better, I’ve found, than suffering from having read and unread email intermingled, or even (and feel free to slap yourself if you do this) marking email as unread in order to be reminded to come back to it later. That way madness lies.

  1. If it needs a response…
    1. respond immediately if it takes less than two minutes
    2. …or file it as an ‘action’ for later.
  2. Delete everything that can be deleted.
  3. Archive everything that is needed for later.

The bits I specifically need to get better at are:

  • Starting the day with those actions rather than the inbox so I spend more time doing the most important thing rather than the most recent thing.
  • Sticking to a routine of processing email at regular intervals (and not at the weekend), rather than constantly checking my inbox as frequently as I can humanly manage. I like what Merlin Mann says about this: “Checking email every 59 seconds is tantamount to washing rice one grain at a time”

7 replies on “My annual appraisal, my inbox and me”

  1. Hi Roo.

    I heartily recommend a guy called Mark Forster for tips on this. His ‘Get Everything Done and Still Have Time for Play’ was recommended to my by Euan Semple as the first book on Time Management to be written by someone who was crap at Time Management. ‘Do It Tomorrow’ is very good too.


  2. Realising you can’t ever deal with the amount of electronic communication that we face today (email, twitter, blog comments etc) is the key. Once you’re over that, you can (start to) prioritise it so you process just what you need to. You still won’t have enough hours in the day, but you’ll use the ones you do have more effectively – which is usually better than 90% of the population :)

  3. One good tip: Don’t keep your email client open at all times. If you do, the temptation to look at the latest thing will be too great to bear for long.

    Second: Spend the last 20 minutes of every day looking through that action pile of emails. Look at each one in turn and think: “Do I really need to action this? Can I delegate it? Am I the best (ie only) person to deal with it?” Once that’s done, prioritise them and print (yes, I know, how retro!) the ten most important ones one. Do these the next day, after reviewing your appointments and to do list.

    Third, and probably most important: Plan weekly. When planning think about your long term goals and make those your *top* priority for the week. Making progress on long term goals is the most important job of every week. I do this Sunday night, because if I leave it to Monday morning you get sucked into the usual Monday stuff of what’s important to *other* people, which isn’t the same thing as important to you.

    And finally: Take half an hour at the end of the week to review what you’ve done (this is why you should keep copious notes through the week of what you’ve done, what’s been asked of you, etc). I tend to do this Friday, just after lunch – as it allows me a little time to do the inevitable thing that I’ve noted down and forgotten!

    Organisation is all just about good habits, so it’s great that you’re trying to break the “read email first thing” habit and into the “do things first thing” one. It’s a good start!

  4. Hi Roo,

    I’m trying to start the day by doing the 3 most important things that I need to do that day before even looking at my email. This means that whatever comes next throughout the day, I will already have completed the most important work.

    I had an appraisal a few weeks ago and received that feedback that I work quickly and effectively, but that sometimes I take too much on. This means that I don’t have time to look at the bigger picture and so improtant work on the bigger picture/strategy is lost. As such, I’m spending 10% more of my time acitviely working on strategy across the different projects I have going. It’s working so far and been makes the day-to-day work easier to manage!

    Would be interested ins eeing how you ge ton with the changes you’re trying to make…


  5. Thanks everyone. It’s great to get feedback from people who are further along this journey than me.

    Ian: weekly reviews are a habit I’ve never really developed (despite getting on with most of what Getting Things Done has taught me). They’re clearly a good discipline I could benefit from.

    Ben: Thanks. That’s what I’m thinking (in conjunction with the idea of looking at the big picture every weei) i.e. “doing the most important thing rather than the most recent thing”. I’ll definitely share how I get on.

  6. Dear Roo,

    I was at Portsmouth when you were invited for the FoT T&L conf. – I presented the Technology Assisted Project Supervision (TAPaS) project.

    I see your reaction and think this is similar to mine, my bosses and many others I know.

    The reason is the connectivity that follow us in various ways.

    In the education world this connectedness leads to what I call as an e-Gurukul.

    A Gurukul was a place where the guru and his desciples lived for years on cutoff from the social world for academic purposes. Ofcourse this level of dedication is unthinkable in today’s world even in India where this was the defacto mode of running educational institutions more than 2000 yrs ago.

    In todays world the boundaries between the real and the virtual are blurred. hence effectivly you end up spending a lot of time working /studying/teaching in work and personal time or not working and doing something completely leisure based in work time.

    And when you are working you are not necessasarily on your own, others are also in the same situation and working and responding to your emails/tweets etc. So effectively working and living “together”. Hence the terms e-gurukul for the education based professional who use online tools.

    I find that prioritising and setting ground rules like you have done is always helpful.


  7. The e-mail even though much economical,will always cause a time delay. This is avoided in sms. This is the reason why the company’s prefer bulk sms to alert their customers. The short code services can be used to get the feed back from the clients. This is all because of the wide popularity of the sms.

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