A Better Way to Manage Email

Why our inbox seduces us into executing on the most recent rather than the most important work

Deidre Paknad  ::  Strategy & Execution

Over the past few weeks, I’ve had a lot of conversations with leaders on goal achievement.  Some of the discussions are triggered by their goal setting efforts for Q2 and the realization that it’s been far too long since they looked at or assessed progress against their Q1 goals.  They and their teams have been working hard, but they’re deeply concerned about what everyone is actually working on….  And whether that will matter in the scheme of what they want to accomplish this year.

What we all recognized is we tend to work on the last 20 items in our email inbox whether or not they’re worth working on.  Because those items continuously change, follow through is particularly hard as the next 20 items reset our focus.  The sense of satisfaction that comes from being responsive contributes to the temptation to work our mail instead of our priorities, and it certainly feels like hard work as we’re doing it.  These factors help explain why it’s so easy to devolve to this reactive execution pattern instead of executing on strategic priorities!

But it’s not just the presence of a zillion emails.  It’s also the absence of better alternatives to focus attention and surface important work.  Without a persistent list of the most important work and when goals are invisible as soon as they’re defined, it’s impossible to execute well — even without the seduction and gratification of working the last 20 emails!

Because of the volume of email and messaging, it takes willpower and high awareness to break the cycle of reactive priority setting (“goals set by postman”).  These leaders and our team here at WorkBoard are using an “agreed-to-achieved” cycle in weekly progression toward goals. From the month or quarter goals, we back into what each team member needs to accomplish week over week to hit the goal.   Mondays we commit to do the truly important work over the week, Fridays we read out on what each of us achieved.  Fridays are fun and energizing when everyone achieved big — it’s far more gratifying than working my inbox!  (In full disclosure, the WorkBoard team does Friday read outs outside on a dock overlooking a cute harbor and it’s been in the 70s lately so it’s pretty easy to appreciate great progress and much more!)

Naturally, we're using WorkBoard for the persistent list of important work aligned to strategic priorities… and improving WorkBoard as we go.

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