Email, calendar defrags and task batches (or "How Gina Trapani could preserve my sanity")

I read a post by Gina Trapani on her Work Smart blog last night on my Kindle (I sent a batch of her posts to my Kindle and finally read them in the last few days). Her post is titled “Work Smart: Defrag Your Calendar by Batching Tasks“. The idea is pretty simple and will probably help me preserve what is left of my sanity by allowing me to process my inboxes to a big fat 0 and still get through everything within 24 hours of receiving the email:

One of the more advanced (and obvious!) productivity techniques is to group similar to-do’s and knock them all out at the same time. I call this task batching. It makes better use of your day by chunking similar activities into contiguous blocks of time.

Take a look at Trapani’s video guide to the topic with a focus on batching tasks by actions or contexts:

The idea for email management is similar and it involves blocking off time to just deal with email and then close your email app and get all that other work done. This is consistent with the Getting Things Done methodology and part of the process (at least how I understand it) is to process your email, set tasks, file your email and then get on with the tasks. If your inbox is anything like mine then you probably feel like the email just never stops coming in and you can find yourself constantly checking your inbox and never getting anything else done.

The problem with email is that it is almost immediate and people expect immediate responses. It is a totally irrational expectation because there is rarely anything communicated by email which has to be dealt with right away but because we have Blackberries, constant connectivity and the ability to receive and deal with email anywhere, we are expected to do just that. A number of productivity experts, including the awesome Merlin Mann, have advocated setting your email application to retrieve email in larger intervals rather than right away or every few minutes. I feel more than a little paranoid when I do that but it is more conducive to real productivity and worth the sweats.

A similar productivity suggestion came from the 37signals guys (can’t remember where the post is). The idea is, similarly, to block off chunks of time to focus on work. You close your IM, email and non-task-at-hand apps (TweetDeck would qualify here for me – talk about a time sink) and just work. No calls, meetings or distractions. That sort of approach appeals to me largely because I have a pretty fragile attention span. It also requires a fair amount of discipline to achieve that sort of work regimen.

Of course the point of all of this stuff is to actually get your work done and not waste even more time messing around with methodologies and systems. Find a system that works and get the work done. Speaking of which …

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