It’s a new year and you’ve vowed in 2017 is going to be the year that you get more done at work. No more checking Facebook. No more days of only answering emails and nothing else. No more weekends at the office doing the projects you promised yourself you would do during the week.
The biggest complaint I hear from my clients is that their day-to-day tasks, i.e. answering emails, meetings, phone calls, fielding bosses and co-workers questions, eat up their entire day and all their energy. They feel frustrated and burned out because they can’t ever focus on the important tasks, the ones that will actually make a difference at their companies or in their businesses.
There are lots of productivity hacks out there to help you become more efficient and focused. The problem that I see many of my clients struggle with isn’t the desire to be more productive; it’s learning how to shift their mindset about what is really keeping them stuck and unable to accomplish their overall goals.
There are so many things that distract you throughout the day, but today let’s start by shifting your thoughts and beliefs about: your email inbox. Just like with a demanding boss, difficult parent or a toxic friend, you need to establish some boundaries with your email so it works for you.
Does this scenario sound familiar? When you finally have a moment to work on that really important project, it’s 8:00pm and you’re tired, hungry and your partner is texting wondering if you’re ever coming home for dinner.
You recognize you’re completely fried for the day. You decide to head home for the day promising yourself you’re going to devout all day tomorrow to that project you’ve been “meaning” to do for weeks.
The next day you’re back in the office and ready to tackle that project, but first you’re going to check your emails just to make sure there’s nothing pressing. No emergencies but you got a series of emails about an email you sent out last night so after you tackle those emails, you’re going to work on the project.
Next thing you know you look up and you have a meeting in 10 minutes, so you’ll work on the project after the meeting. You find yourself again at the end of a very long day vowing to dedicate all day tomorrow on your project. Can you see where this story is going?
Email is an important tool for work but if you want to learn how to be more focused and productive at work, here are 3 email mindset shifts you must implement now:
Email isn’t your first priority of the day (or any day)
The big project your boss has been bugging you about or the project that you’ve wanted to work on because if you do it right it could mean getting a promotion and raise – that’s your priority of the day. It’s these projects that are going to help you stand out among your colleagues. Just like the scenario I talked about earlier, it’s too easy to get distracted by email and other things at work.
It’s the complicated, taxing projects that we need to tackle first thing in the morning. Just like personal trainers tell us to work out first thing in the morning, we need to do the important and tough tasks first. If we wait until later in the day, it’s easy to make excuses to wait until the next day and many times something more pressing and urgent tasks can come up.
“Wait a minute, but I have to check my email first thing because I can’t…”
You can set email limits/boundaries
Let me finish that last sentence, “I can’t…wait an hour after I get into work to respond to my bosses emails.” “I can’t make an important client wait for my response.” “I can’t because what if there’s an emergency?” These are all valid points but it doesn’t mean you throw up your hands and resolve to a slave to your inbox. You can set some limits and boundaries around how and when you check your email.
First, if there’s a serious emergency at work, email won’t be the only way someone gets a hold of you. They will call and if you don’t pick up your phone, they’ll find another way to reach you.
In terms of responding to your boss or any important client’s emails, there are lots of ways to work around this problem. You can create a separate “very important person” email account and this is the only one you check first thing in the morning. Let your boss and those VIP clients know about it and tell them if they need something that can’t wait, use that account. There are so many different ways you can address your concerns, you just have to remember that there are solutions.
“Wait another minute, won’t I look like a slacker if I don’t respond right away…”
Email is someone else’s agenda
Think about the last time you came into the office and spent an hour reading and responding to your emails. Did spending that hour help you get any of your big projects or tasks accomplished?
Think about it like this: that big project you’ve wanted to work on is to benefit you and your career. If you spend all your time responding to emails, you’re putting aside what benefits you. Email, for the most part, is about someone else’s want or need. Making this mindset shift doesn’t mean your emails aren’t important or necessary; it means you need to prioritize what will propel you forward over the demands of other people.
The most important thing you can take away from this article is simply the belief that work doesn’t have to be the way it is now. It’s like any other change you want to make in your life; it’s going to feel strange and uncomfortable at first. You’re going to wonder if this is “right” for you but try and remember why you’re doing this. You’re making the choice to change your relationship with your email inbox in order to move your career forward. If you implement these mindset shifts, you’ll finally be able to feel like your workday is working for you and not against you.
Want tools for becoming your best self?
Get access to our 40 favorite personal growth recommendations (books, documentaries, and more) that inspire us.