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Be your email’s master
Be your email’s master
Pierre Khawand is the founder and CEO of People-OnTheGo, an organization seeking to help corporations and individuals rise above the challenges of the information overload characterizing our everyday work and social lives. His company’s workshops help people more effectively manage their email and digital communication tools. BeWell asked Mr. Khawand to discuss first the issues of productivity, focus and overall success in the work environment; secondly, we queried him about the role that email management (or a lack of it) plays in business or academic success.
Explain the relationship between productivity and focus?
Being able to focus is a prerequisite for accomplishing meaningful things. Otherwise, our effort is diluted and diminished. Ideally, we would carve out enough focused time to handle the current task fully and strategically.
However, while focus and productivity go hand in hand, being able to work in a fast-paced environment and switch tasks to accommodate the various demands and priorities is also important. So as the Results Curve™ tells us, we need to alternate between focus and collaborative effort, which is a style of working that I call “working in bursts.” You can download the Results Curve™ at: http://www.people-onthego.com/focused-versus-collaborative-time-free-eBook/.
What is the 80/20 rule?
The 80/20 rule says: 80% of our results come from 20% of our effort. This means that there are certain activities directly tied to desired outcomes, and many other activities that take up a lot of our time but contribute little or nothing to these outcomes. Success in today’s information overload is about acquiring what I call “80/20” vision, which means that instead of just doing work (and there is plenty of it to do), we are able to stop and ask the question: “Is what I am about to engage in part of the 20% or the 80%?” If it happens to be a core activity that is closely tied to the desired outcomes (the 20%), then give it the time and focus it requires. If, however, it happens to be one of the activities not closely tied to these outcomes (the 80%), then do it quickly, minimize its scope, or eliminate it all together.
My schedule and email box are always full. How do I lower my stress and gain control?
First, this is good news! This means you are alive and engaged. However, consider the idea that email should not be the priority per se. Instead of being driven and “rewarded” by answering email, step back and identify what are the key outcomes that will make you and your team thrive, and then focus on these outcomes and on the emails directly related to these outcomes. The rest of the emails should be addressed later, faster, or not at all. This new mindset requires you to retrain your brain to work differently.
What is the biggest mistake people make when it comes to managing email?
First mistake: checking email every few seconds or minutes (which is causing ADD-like symptoms) as opposed to “working in bursts.”
Second mistake: keeping unfinished messages in the inbox and spending so much time scrolling up and down the inbox to find them later — not to mention the constant background anxiety about missing important messages — as opposed to having a methodology such as use of the categories or labels to clearly identify messages based on the timeframe in which they need to be handled.
Third mistake: being obsessed by the inbox as opposed to focusing on the desired outcomes (and then letting email support these outcomes).
How do you start your day?
While it is more common to start the day on email, this is probably the least effective way. Our brain will start to get hyper and agitated and drawn into the less strategic work. The more effective approach is to first ask an important question: “What is important? And what do I want to accomplish today?” This is best answered in a paper journal, so that it registers in our brain and so becomes our focus for the day. Once we establish our intentions for the day, then reviewing the calendar and email can follow.
Any final thoughts?
The world of information overload is not likely to change anytime soon. However, our reaction to it and how we behave in it can change. How we start our day and how we manage email can lead to important changes, such as the development of 80/20 thinking followed by the skills of setting expectations and undertaking negotiation. Whatever you do, make sure you incorporate plenty of “play” time (aka energizing break time) in between the focused and collaborative efforts in order to stay engaged and energized as you tackle the strategic and tactical issues of the day.
Stanford’s IT Services regularly offers classes taught by Mr. Khawand. For details, see: https://itservices.stanford.edu/service/techtraining/schedule.
Interview conducted by Julie Croteau and edited by Lane McKenna Ryan.