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The Importance of Focus

This is the first in a series of blogs on practical steps to improve your collaboration effectiveness.

Technology in our world has brought many amazing benefits to our lives. Increased mobility, connectivity and access to virtually unlimited information. However, along with the benefits, comes the distraction of just too much information.

I’m sure, like me, you are overwhelmed with the amount of email, texts, documents and websites that fight for your attention. It’s hard to carve out time to get the important things done. A few years ago, after an especially heavy email day, I decided I’d had enough and I started a journey to re-focus my daily activities based on priorities and not just the latest email in my inbox.

It took some discipline, but within a few days I had cleared my inbox and had a prioritized list of activities, dates for delivering and the time to make it happen. At this point most of you will be thinking, ‘yeah but’. Hang in there, it is possible.

In a nutshell, you need to stop reading all your email. It sounds insane, especially if you work in a heavy email centric organization, but it’s actually just a simple application of priority.

Email typically falls into two categories: 1) Emails you need to read and action, or 2) emails that ‘might’ need you to read them for information. That includes email that others think is important to you but actually isn’t. How you classify which is in each category is up to you. I found that the majority of my email was for info only and a distraction from the important stuff. Using some automated rules I was able to move the information only email to another folder for deletion at a later date. I would scan email titles for anything that might need immediate attention and then ignore the rest.

The rest of the email I respond to immediately or add it to a task list with a due date if it’s going to take more than a few minutes. For longer tasks, I block time in the calendar to work on the item. At the end of each day, the email has either been responded to or set a priority and moved to the task list. Presto – an empty inbox and a prioritized list. Mix in your longer term projects into the list and your delivery estimates get more accurate and you will find more time to focus on the important things. I’ve done this now for several years and it’s proved an effective way to stay on top of activities and keep things in the right focus.

Some things to remember:

  • 1. Try not to check your email constantly. Depending on your role this may be hard, but if you can do this your time will be more effective.

  • 2. Clear your inbox by replying or prioritizing email every time you read it. Don’t use your inbox as a reminder list. This will take some discipline – stay on it.

  • 3. Realize that if an email is older than 2 weeks, you probably won’t read it, delete it.

  • 4. Keep the process simple so it doesn’t take a lot of time.

  • 5. Find the delete key on your keyboard and use it.

I’ll explore some additional things you can do to help stay on top of emails that are not getting the attention they need in the next blog.

- Mark Harmsworth, Director of Cloud & Collaboration
Blueprint Consulting Services