How I Freed Up 2 Hours of Every Day
I was at a breaking point. My days were consumed with tasks – both personal tasks and work tasks. At the end of the day, I felt like I hadn’t done anything that I really wanted to do. Too often I didn’t have time for the gym. Didn’t have time to read a book for pleasure. Didn’t have time to cook a nice meal for my wife. I had to take control of the situation. So I started analyzing what I was spending my time on.
Identifying My Time Management Problem
One of the biggest time sinks I found was e-mail. E-mail is great. Overall it increases my productivity and allows me to keep in touch with people I otherwise would not. But, it is simultaneously one of the worst time stealers in my life. Here’s roughly what my day at work used to look like:
7:00 am Arrive at work
7:01 am Check e-mail
7:02 am Incoming e-mail alert. Respond to e-mail.
7:04 am Incoming e-mail alert. Respond to e-mail.
(continues like this just about every couple minutes throughout the day, except when I’m stuck in meetings, and the e-mails pile up awaiting my response between meetings).
One of my initial solutions to the problem of constantly piling up e-mails was to have a device with me during meetings so I could take care of those e-mails and not let them pile up. This is both rude to the other people at the meeting and I’m sure it caused me to miss important points that were being discussed. But I still see people doing it all the time.
Then, at lunch, or on my commute home, or whenever I had a second, I’d check my personal e-mails (responding to some, deleting most) constantly until bedtime. I seriously spent nearly one third of my waking day doing something with e-mails. I next figured that maybe I was just disorganized with my e-mails. So, for a while I thought I was getting ahead of the problem through the use of my new, exceptional e-mail filing system. But I was really just fooling myself into thinking I was gaining efficiencies.
I knew while doing all of this that I had a serious time management problem. I attended time management improvement seminars, read time management improvement books, and they all kept saying “only check your e-mail a few times a day, at set points throughout the day” – problem solved, right!? No. Not problem solved. Because when you have a boss, or bosses, or co-workers, or clients, they expect more than just checking e-mail a few times a day. Plus, people love to call you right after they send you an e-mail and ask you “did you get the e-mail I just sent you?” (which, by the way, drives me absolutely insane).
So I kept thinking about the problem and searching for solutions. I promise you I over-analyzed the problem. I tracked, I flow-charted, I researched and developed the hell out of the problem. It wasn’t completely useless to do that, but I don’t recommend everyone spend that extra time to gain a little bit of time in your day. Because here’s what I found:
Over an average of a month, my personal e-mails (of which I had several – one for my shopping type e-mails, one for my friends, one for my professional sites liked LinkedIn) were receiving 167 e-mails per day. Factoring in work e-mails, I was handling well over 300 e-mails each day. There wasn’t much I could do to control the work e-mails (yet – I’m still not giving up on reducing those too). But, figuring on average I spent a minute reading, filing, and/or responding to an e-mail, that was almost 3 hours per day just on my personal e-mail. Granted some of that was occurring while I was on the train to/from school or work, but multi-tasking wasn’t the solution to this problem, because I would rather be reading an enjoyable novel, or just staring out the window. The point is, it was way too much of my time.
The analysis also revealed that over half of those e-mails were pure junk. Not even spam, which the spam filters do a pretty decent job of sorting out for me nowadays. No, they were e-mails from sites that I’d visited at some point, been interested in, and signed up for so that I would know what was going on in the world. I’m guessing you have some of these in your inbox too… I’m not saying I got rid of all of them, but by unsubscribing, I have saved myself ALOT of time.
Time Management Solution
Here’s the quick analysis: It takes about 10 seconds to unsubscribe from an e-mail list. (maybe 20 seconds if you’ve got a slow browser or you have to re-enter your e-mail to actually unsubscribe.) It can be overwhelming to try to unsubscribe from everything at once, so just do it as the e-mail comes in. Ask yourself, how many times a day do I get an e-mail from this subscription? Do I ever read them or do I constantly just delete them? If I do read them, are they providing me something useful in my life, or am I just reading it so I know what great weekend deals on shopping are available?
You know what you should do. Then just hit the unsubscribe link. If you miss getting that e-mail, you’ll feel it in your gut later in the week and you can always go re-subscribe.
I took that list of 167 e-mails a day down to less than 20. Total time invested was about 25 minutes, and I gained 2 hours per day back. That’s serious return on investment. I now use that time to do things that I want to do.