Only Process E-mail at Designated Times

In my experience, most people are overwhelmed by their e-mail. Throughout the day, they are bombarded with e-mail messages. Like a tennis match from hell, some feel obligated to hit every ball back across the net as soon as it lands in their court. Others eventually give up and allow the tennis balls to cover them up. Occasionally, they take a swing, but they can never seem to dig out from under the pile. Meanwhile, the never-ending assault of e-mail messages continues.

Enough of this madness! The problem is in the assumption. Contrary to popular opinion, there is not a law that says you must answer every e-mail as it is received. In fact, this is a sure-fire way to kill your productivity and end up becoming a slave to e-mail rather than using it as a tool to accomplish your work on your terms.

One simple way to do this is to schedule specific times of day to work on e-mail. For example, I check e-mail first thing in the morning, before I go to lunch, and at the end of the day. Since I use Outlook for things other than e-mail (e.g., calendaring, task management, etc.), I keep it running all day; I just work in offline mode. When I am ready to download e-mail at one of my designated times, I press F9, which initiates the Send/Receive All action. I then process each e-mail message. When I am done, I press F9 again to send any messages I have created.

The advantage of this is that I never work on e-mail for more than about 45 minutes a day. Using the two-minute rule, I handle any e-mail that can be done in less than two minutes. If I think it will take longer than that, I either add it to my task list or schedule a time to do it. (I’ll talk more about this in another Tip.)

How do you work offline? First, make sure that you have Outlook set to “manually detect connection state.” Here’s how to do it in Outlook 2003:

  1. From the Outlook main screen, select Tools | E-mail Accounts.
  2. Make sure that View or change existing e-mail accounts is selected on the E-mail Accountswizard and click on Next.
  3. Make sure Microsoft Exchange Server is selected and click on the Change button. This should take you to Exchange Server Settings. Click on the More Settings … button. You should get a dialog box that looks like this:1.MicrosoftExchangeServerIn the When starting section, make sure that Manually control connection state is selected and Choose the connection type when starting is checked.
  4. Click OK, Next, and then Finish to get back to Outlook.

Now quit Outlook by pressing Alt-F4 or File | Exit.

Re-launch Outlook. You should get a dialog box that asks you whether you want to Connect to the server, Work Offline or Cancel. It looks like this:

1.ConnectionState

Select Work Offline.

When you want to download your e-mail, simply press F9.