INBOX (Zero) – How to achieve email productivity?

Tim, a senior manager, is hesitant to plan a long holiday this summer. He is serving a critical role in the organization. Last year when he returned back from a week long holiday he jumped off the chair after downloading his 800 odd emails waiting for his response. Average emails Tim is receiving are 150 everyday. How can one optimize handling tons of emails received daily- many of us are not in the luxury to stare at desktop / mobile phone whole day now and then. If some of us has this luxury its shear waste of valuable time to only respond to email and do not employ ourselves to other forms of productive work like engaging a team in person to produce good work. The million dollar question is what can be done about this?

Golden rule is define a regular frequency like once a day or maximum twice a day when you will attend to your email box. Staring at mailbox all the time is big killer of your day’s plan.

Next important thing to do is bucket your emails first always to arrive at INBOX (Zero). This is basic housekeeping like we clean our desks daily before start of work. The bucketing itself does 90% of the job for you. At the end of it you have no email in the INBOX and you have achieved INBOX (Zero) state. I personally like to do bucketing into below 4 categories. The moment i read the subject or first few lines first thing is to identify the bucket and move the email to that bucket. You can create folders by the name of these in your mailbox.

Answer Now : Bucket #1

If you find you can answer an email in less than 30 second go ahead and do it. This saves you from planning and action taking time. Take action right now.

In the bucket #1 you can choose stuff which is urgent and important. Lets understand this. There is important and not important stuff. So there is urgent and non-urgent stuff. There are four combinations of urgent and important stuff – ‘Urgent and Important’, ‘Urgent and not-Important’, ‘Not-Urgent and Important’ and ‘Not-Urgent and not-Important’.

Delegate : Bucket #2

If you find stuff which can be done by your team and falls into the job description of one of your team member or a colleague – do not hesitate to delegate. You can do so for stuff which is ‘Urgent and not-Important’, where you find a person who is directly responsible can add value or a person who would not mind extending you a helping hand.

Next Action : Bucket #3

The stuff which is ‘Not-Urgent and Important’ it is the right bucket. Keep a folder where you park all your such stuff and come back to it when you plan to attend to it. Easy way to handle such stuff is put a reminder. If you need help in a group – schedule a meeting. The calendar will do the rest.

Read later : Bucket #4

The stuff which is going to find place here is ‘Not-Urgent and Not-Important’ – so who cares. Just Chill. You probably will not be visiting this folder at all – just move the email here and  you are all done towards INBOX (Zero).

‘Less is more’ – a phrase from 1855 poem ‘Andrea del Sarto’ by Robert Browning is so relevant while managing your mail box. You have more productive time, once you shrink your mailbox to ‘INBOX (Zero)’.

Happy productive time – Happy ‘INBOX (Zero)’.


How to conduct daily staff meeting in less than 10 minutes?

Mr. Junker, Plant Manager, at an FMCG manufacturing company in Munich conducts daily staff meeting which  lasts for 45 minutes to 90 minutes. Thus on an average 600 minutes get consumed daily for about 10 people engaged in-it.  What a waste of time for such an important resource group at the manufacturing site. This is a very typical scenario irrespective of the industry type that either managers are not able to conduct regular staff meetings or they are wasting significant time by being inefficient in conducting them.

Bloggers and consultants always try to bring method to madness and this is how they earn. Let me share my personal experience of optimizing the meetings on time scale while keeping the quality of interaction in easy 3 steps.

Step 1 : Divide your work-area into small work groups like functions or production lines

Divide the workplace you are managing into smaller areas map each area with a person in your team so confusion about ownership is addressed.

Step 2 : Identify top 3 worst performing areas to manage by exception – use daily dashboard

Identify a person in your team who can compile and circulate a dashboard showing performance of each area/ line in worse to best order. If you have 10 manufacturing lines start the output rate % gap between actual and expected. Identify top 3 worst performing areas or set a acceptance limit like only discuss line which are below 90% of expected output. This bring focus for group to focus and contribute to large part of problem with fewer items to deal with – 80:20 principal works here like everywhere.

Step 3 : Let area managers use standard format to respond while explaining failure and resolution   

The number 1 time killer in a meeting is tangential discussion, everything but the key matter. Standardize the response format, here is example. Ask manager of line number 3 which performed 44% output level, worst performance yesterday, to explain only following 3 things (you can evolve format relevant to your business) –

  1. What went wrong (summary of route cause of problem)
  2. What action is taken as countermeasure (Fix -it done)
  3. What can be done differently so problem does not repeat

Ask to answer each question in only 1 sentence.

This way you can discuss 80% of the problem causing stuff in your workplace in 3-8 minutes. This leaves you with additional 2 minutes to discuss any success story (breaking past performance record) and safety/5-S like important daily topics.Since it is a group meeting you can improve decorum by asking 1 person to speak at one point of time. Do not forget to give small open forum of 1 minute if an issue may need contribution from rest of the group. If something needs more prework with longer time to work on it you can not address such stuff in daily staff meetings. Let staff meeting remain a communication forum. More complex issues must get longer meetings in calendar.

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Invite me to your workplace to fix your meeting issues without a dime. Wishing you and your team happy productivity.