Monday 14 August 2017

Shifting from theory into practice

I had to move my car this morning, as they were digging up the road and needed to put some temporary traffic lights outside the house where I would normally park the car.

A while later as I looked out of the office window and watched the lights change from red to green and back I was struck with the analogy between them and the issue I'd been wrestling with over recent weeks.

How to manage emails effectively.

When I'm out of the office, and as I still don't have emails on my phone only my ipad, I find responding to emails at set times of day much easier to manage ie through necessity it's likely to be at the start or end of the day and done all together.

When working in the office I do find the little icon that appears a distraction, and much like an annoying itch something that needs scratching - resulting in emails being checked hourly, if not much more frequently!

I know the theory of managing and responding to emails and time management more broadly - it was even a topic for one of the coaching clinics last year I facilitated and where I summarised the key findings in a Pinterest board.

I don't, however, always follow the theory - or walk the talk!

When coaching others the biggest challenge to be addressed for many issues is shifting theory into practice. More often than not we do know what to do - we're just not doing it - whether that's managing emails, eating more healthily, exercising, making decisions, speaking up, taking timely action and so on.

The challenge in many coaching sessions is finding the difference that makes the difference for the client. Finding what would move them from theory into action, and in this case dealing with emails differently. For some people it might be about finding the motivation to take action, for others changing the trigger for taking action, and others it might be about changing their strategy all together.

In others words, when wanting to improve email handling, it might include any one or all of the following:
  • Turning the icon that tells you that you've unopened emails off, or closing emails - which might work if, like me, you have a visual trigger for action. 
  • Turning the sound that heralds the arrival of a new emails off - which might work if you have an auditory trigger for action. 
  • Setting a timer to enable you to focus for a set time on a given task with no distractions allowed - which might work if you have a strategy that means you're good at following rules you set yourself, or if you're motivated by reward and can see reading emails as a reward for focusing on another task for an amount of time.
  • Finding the motivation by tapping into the thought of what it would be like to finally get other things on your to-do list done (some people may need to tick a box to get the sense of achievement or success).
  • Thinking about the people you're letting down by not getting your other actions completed (although this may be the same value that is motivating your over responsiveness to emails).
  • Monitoring how often you respond to emails in a day - which might work if you're motivated by efficiency, or away from the horror for how often you let them distract your day.
  • Comparing how much time you spend responding to emails if you do them frequently vs in chunks x times a day - which might work if you're struggling with your workload and know you need to free up time every day.
  • Writing a list of all the things you don't seem to be doing because you're responding to emails - which might work if you really would prefer to be doing the other activities.
  • Adding 'respond to emails' to your to-do list or diary might help you prioritise them alongside your other actions, rather than them just being a filler that expands and takes over your working day.
  • Rooting emails into different folders to assist with their prioritisation (e.g many people redirect emails they're cc'd onto into another folder - the rules set up could be expanded to include redirection based on name, project, key words etc). 
  • Asking someone who manages their time and emails well what strategy they adopt.
Sometimes the more obvious strategies might not work, and a more unconventional perspective might be just what is needed. In which case, options might include: 
  • Considering the language you're using for emails that arrive - instead of calling them 'emails' what about calling them 'distractions' - might that reduce the frequency that you view them? or perhaps calling them 'actions' would help you manage them more effectively. There's no right or wrong, just a strategy that helps you manage your emails and your work load more effectively.   
  • Doing a collage to act as a visual reminder about the impact of emails, and using it as a screensaver or popping it by your desk (I'll do a blog on this later in the week and link to it when it's written).
  • In a coaching session if we're going around in circles I may get the Frameworks for Change Coaching Process cards out to help provide a different perspective to the situation. (Certainly for me reconnecting to my inner wisdom and vision (big picture) for the future has helped me find more time to allocate to non email activity, and therefore forced me to handle emails differently).
  • Using pipe cleaners to help demonstrate the pros of changing your behaviour, and cons of continuing with your current strategy.
  • Finding a metaphor that helps the theory land - which is where the traffic lights come in. If I imagine the email is the red light I realise that every x minutes, just like the traffic, I'm being stopped in mid-flow - no choice when I stop just at the whim of something external to me. Once the green light shows I have to navigate the roadworks / obstruction before I get back on track and up to my normal speed. If this metaphor doesn't work for you, what other metaphor might help you relate to your emails more resourcefully? Here's some further suggestions.
  • Writing a blog, article, or poem about dealing with emails might help shift the pattern as you are forced to consider, explore and provide solutions to your current unresourceful, unhelpful and unproductive behaviour :-)
  • or even doing a vlog
  • and so on - what strategy do you adopt for managing emails? 

Alison Smith
Unlocking your potential using unconventional tools


  1. Love some of your unconventional approaches! Very visual and hands-on, even. Thank you for the creative ideas.