Last week, I wrote about time chunking, a new phrase sweeping productivity circles. (See: Power Up Your Productivity). This week, I tried with some success to turn off interruptions to focus on writing or editing pretty major pieces that I was working on.
Honestly, this had less to do with actual interruptions (emails and phone calls) and more to do with committing cognitively to the task at hand. I used to have an editor in New York who differentiated people by those who had the discipline to know when it was “butt-in-the-seat” time and those who endlessly flitted from task to task to task. I put aside two hours, no interruptions, to edit a piece about asset allocations. I physically shifted away from my computer, and the constant harangue of my email.
If you are a freelancer, chances are very good that you need to be a butt-in-the-seat person, because you need to produce–stories, designs, proposals– in order to get paid.
I don’t know about you, but email is my most persistent interruption – the one thing that keeps me from that critical focus – so I’m always interested in stories about how to take control of email. In this story in Crain’s New York Business, Anne Field wrote about the research that shows it is effective to check email two to four times a day. Here’s a link to the research.
When I interviewed Ari Meisel, whose web site is lessdoing.com, and whose Manhattan firm helps people improve productivity, he suggested a different approach–one I immediately tried, and which I loved.
“I’m not a big fan of only checking email once or twice a day,” he says. “When you have an efficient email system, the ones that are actually getting through are those you want to respond to.”
He told me about a trick in gmail, whereby you search all the emails for the word unsubscribe. That will catch all the random newsletters you’ve signed up for over the years. If you search, and then apply a filter in gmail, you can look at them later–at your leisure. Or, you can know that if you don’t have time to look at them, you won’t lose something essential. He details the advice in this post on Mashable.
I ran the filter at 10 a.m. and instantly saw the inboxes on my two gmail accounts in a different light. Try it: Let us know what you think in the comment area.
I actually started doing something like this a few months ago, and it has made a huge difference! I didn’t think of using the “unsubscribe” filter, so I put the various newsletters in manually (why does Gmail’s filter interface suck so much?) but this lets me filter things like unofficial newsletters, or emails from PayPal saying “you sent an automated payment” (I want to ensure this gets put in my expenses but I don’t need to see it right away).
Upon reflection, I don’t want to filter using unsubscribe on the off-chance it catches something it shouldn’t and I don’t see it for days. Also, I’m in google group for my residence that posts very time-sensitive updates (eg. “Food is here EOM”) and its footer text has “unsubscribe” in it.
Still, I highly highly recommend this!