Email is destroying productivity. We spend about 25% of our week checking it, flagging it, and monitoring it. We're slightly addicted to it. Yet, it is the primary form of communication in business. Is there a better way? Yes, by following a protocol I've developed below to help you scan and flag emails quickly.The

This method is a unique way to process email without interfering in your work day. It is not intended to replace ad hoc messaging activities where you communicate at regular intervals. However, with the influx of competing tools like Slack and Campfire, text messaging and DMs on Twitter, and Facebook chats, it moves the activity of processing email into a set routine that takes seven minutes.

You can use this method multiple times per day, but I recommend doing it in the morning, right before lunch, midday, and then right before you leave the office.

Use a timer on your phone or keep an eye on the clock in Windows or on your phone. Before you start, note the time and keep an eye on the minutes clicking over. Try to stay within the time window because you are purposefully limiting yourself as a way to stay productive.

By having a plan for email, you avoid what is called  Email Apnea, a condition that involves elevated breathing and causes us stress. You won't get as anxious because you know there is a set schedule and a plan you follow. You have set limits as a way to combat overload. This method also avoids the temptation to check email as a way to get a slight dopamine burst; you are changing your entire mindset.

Note: This method is designed for processing incoming messages only, not an existing archive. Sending email should be a separate task you do during another time period (when you are not answering messages). It should not involve templates, apps like MailChimp, and tools that help with composing messages. It's meant for combating the deluge of incoming messages. However, part of the  Seven Minute Method is to send at least a couple of new messages, as described below.

1. Minute One: Scan

Scan your email quickly to see which emails are the most important and flag them. In Gmail, you can star them with a quick click. Most email apps provide a way to quickly flag messages. Don't spend more than 60 seconds flagging. This step is mostly about getting a picture of what you are facing--a handful of new messages or dozens? You size up the work involved before digging in to tackle it.

2. Minute Two: Purge 

Your next step is to delete (or at least label/move) emails you don't need. Fly like the wind! Try to do this as quickly as possible in just one minute. You can "select all" or Ctrl-click on messages to remove them quickly. The goal here is to leave yourself with just your flagged messages. Move quickly, you are being timed!

3. Minutes 3-5: Short answers to a few important messages

Before you start this next step, choose one or two emails that should be addressed by phone or by some other message (like text or IM). Keep those in your inbox as a reminder. There are times when email is not the best way to communicate.

Then, you will spend the next three minutes answering the most messages in the timeframe you have. If you don't get to the messages, that's OK--answer as many as you can. By purposefully restricting yourself to three minutes, you should try to be as succinct as possible. It's surprising how quickly you can become at answering emails when you restrict your time period. It's OK if you don't reply to all of your flagged messages. Just answer the ones that are most urgent. Make sure you quickly scan through any newly composed messages to check recipient names.

4. Minute 6: Send longer replies

Spend one minute answering emails with a bit longer response. Make sure you only pick a couple of recipients. It's OK if you run out of time. If there are any messages you want to send that will require more than a few quick sentences, use a task manager and make that a separate task. It's amazing what you can say ion one minute of you know you have limited your time. Don't get too wordy.

5. Minute 7: Review

Now, review your inbox one last time. Just do a quick scan and enjoy the moment of relief if you managed to get to inbox zero. Revel a bit in making email processing easier. And saver all of those messages for next time.

That's it. You spent seven minutes quickly dealing with your email. Guess what? Now you should move onto other tasks. Don't drift back to email. You can do another session later, but the addiction issue is related to constantly checking. That's what gives us that rush of excitement but also ruins productivity.

Like how it works? Hate it? Drop me a note sometime.

Published on: Feb 9, 2016
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