1. Make appointments to check email. Trying to keep on top of your emails all day long is a time-suck and the enemy of concentration. Choose your least productive times of day and schedule a meeting with yourself to check and deal with your email (keep high-productivity times for your most important tasks). This might mean half an hour twice a day, or maybe 10 minutes at the top of every hour. Find what works for you and, if possible, close your email window outside of these designated times so you can fully focus on other work.
2. Have a filing system. Different coaches advise different strategies, but I like to file emails away in topic-based folders as I deal with them. This means that all that’s left in my inbox are emails that are still to be handled or which require replies. This helps me keep on top of what’s still left to do as it is completely visible and uncluttered by junk. It also means that I can easily find, sort and archive past messages.
3. Delete ruthlessly. If an email does not need to be kept or handled, delete it – now. Delete unnecessary messages each time you check email, don’t leave them to be cleared out some other time as they will just build up. And if you find yourself repeatedly deleting promotional emails without any interest in their content (special offers from the supermarket you used before you moved house and changed allegiance; vouchers from a maternity-wear shop but you’re no longer pregnant), take the 30 seconds you need to scroll down and unsubscribe now.
1. Identify your “why”. Any task is easier when you have a clear idea of why you are doing it. Finishing my family photo album “because it’s already May and I really should” just doesn’t do it for me. However, remembering the joy we all shared when we showed our kids the album I made last year gives me the push I need. Ask yourself: What value am I honouring by completing this task? How will doing this serve me? What impact is not doing it currently having?
2. Break it down. Very few tasks consist of a single action. Most of the time they can be broken down into a series of smaller, more manageable ones. Maybe you need to clear out and reorganise the kitchen. Even to a decluttering junkie like me, that’s a mammoth undertaking, but if you break it down into steps, it’s easier. Day one, you do a drawer. Day two, another drawer. Day three, you do the crockery cupboard. Then the pots and pans. Doing it bit by bit offers you a regular feeling of accomplishment without requiring you set aside an entire day to get it all done at once. This method also avoids what I call “culling fatigue” – that flagging feeling you get half-way through a big clear out where you lose interest and start making quick and easy instead of good stay/go/donate decisions.
3. Reward yourself! This is the best one. Just because you think you “should have” completed this job ages ago and you’re annoyed you procrastinated so long doesn’t mean you don’t deserve a treat for finally getting it done now. Whether your pat on the back is a run along the river once you tidy the tool shed, a cream cake after you file your taxes, or a home manicure after you’ve cleaned the car, make sure you celebrate and congratulate yourself on your victories and achievements – however small you may consider them.
1. First, separate tasks into categories – personal, professional, family, admin… Then list the tasks, adding a status against each one. I use a star to signify that I have to perform an action. When I am waiting on someone else to complete their part before I can do mine, I write something like “pending Sophie” next to it. Or I might write “email sent, chase on X date”. That way, I know that right now, I can only really attack the starred items. The rest are pending. This automatically makes my scope for action a little less large.
2. Add a red mark of some kind next to tasks that are particularly urgent or time sensitive. If your list is digital, move these to the top. Emergencies notwithstanding, I feel best when I get through at least one item from each list every day. That way I never feel like I’m neglecting work in favour of admin or letting family stuff slip as I tend to clients’ needs. I get a pleasant “keeping all the balls in the air” feeling.
3. Apply the 10-minute rule. If you have any tasks on your list that will take under 10 minutes, do those straight away. Your to-do list just got shorter – and this sense of achievement will motivate you to move on to some of the thornier items. The light feeling I get from crossing off a bunch of small nagging tasks makes it easier to focus on a bigger task that requires time and concentration.