The following is one of a series of guest posts from wonderful people in my network who stepped up to write while I'm travelling. If you'd like to join the cadre of guest writers, send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Over the past six or seven years, I’ve seen many enthusiastic reviews of Tim Ferriss’s “The Four Hour Work Week” that use words like ‘genius’ and ‘life changing,’ but I gave them no legitimate consideration because the reviews always seemed to be coming from workaholics that adore 50 hour weeks, not 4 hour ones.
When I decided to launch a side business to help parents figure out how to make some more money each month, but not sacrifice the time spent with their children, I knew I would be adding my own time commitment onto an already full schedule that includes a full-time job, a life with a wonderful spouse, young twin boys, and 2 hours commuting per day. I wanted to learn how to do things faster and better so when I googled “learn to speed read,” up came an article from The Four Hour Work Week: How to read 300% Faster in 20 Minutes. It might sound like BS, but guess who was reading 300% faster in 20 minutes? This guy.
So I got the book from the library and then bought it before returning the borrowed copy because I wasn’t going to go without. Why?
Within 3 days of borrowing the book, my boss was asking me for tips and a summary after seeing dramatic improvements in my work. In consideration of my employment, I complied with his request rather than sending the speed reading link and a copy of the book….
Which 2 tips are worth their weight in gold? Abridged and Paraphrased:
- Manage Interruptions: I decided to bail on every interruption I could imagine for one week. There was no social media, no email*, no news (information diet, as it’s called), no text message notifications, no random web browsing (mostly because of no social media…).
- Cull Things That Don’t Enrich: Quoting awesome remixes of George W. Bush, “If it feels good, do it.” And, what follows a priori, if it does not feel good, don’t do it. Stop. For at least a week, I stopped participating in relationships I found to be negative and made a concerted effort to invest in the four or five that enriched me the most. I stopped worrying about those things I hadn’t done in a week or 52 that no one else worried about and started to do the things that got the best returns the fastest. What followed was some “extra” time to catch up. It was a ride. I didn’t stop doing all of the things I don’t like doing, of course, because sometimes doing things I don’t like has decent outcomes, which I do like, but I made sure I was conscious to avoid the “just because…” tasks.
*No Email: How do you bail on email?
I scheduled time to check my personal email twice during my one-week experiment. I felt like Jimmy Fallon catching up on Thank You notes every time I checked my email and it was great. I have 45 minutes per check and that was it - a lot of deletions and a lot of 5-sentence, kind, effective replies. No one noticed they were batched.
The work email was a little more tricky, but I set aside 30 minutes per day to deal with it. I use gmail at work so the first step was to setup a filter for key people to have emails sent to my inbox. Outside of 7 email addresses, every incoming email was archived and sent to my “0 - Follow-up” folder (the 0 put it at the top of my folders / labels). Again, no one really noticed that I was reading my email once per day, prioritizing responses, adding emails to write to my to do list rather than replying straight away.
After one week of dealing with emails 30 minutes per day, I took the next step: I added an auto-responder to let people know I was checking my email twice per week and that I was available by phone for anything urgent. I’ve received 4 phone calls in just over a month and missed absolutely nothing of import in my email. I answer emails Monday afternoon and then again on Thursdays, spending about an hour or two depending on volume.
The end result is that I’m spending less time on my email and more time being productive in what is actually my job (most people don’t have “Respond to email as soon as possible” as a written responsibility). My being good and prolific is going to get me noticed much more than my email response times.
I’ve heard from some that I’ve spoken to about this approach to email that it would never fly for them, but what I’ve challenged them with is finding at least one way to improve their productivity through prioritization: Professional shoppers aren’t more effective because they visit every store on the way to pleasing their client and there’s no way that anyone receiving more than a couple of emails per day is more effective by responding to them either in bulk in order or simply as soon as they arrive.
No one approach works for everyone, but if you’re still in default mode, find something that works for you and move away from email slavery.