Email has transformed business, helping international companies communicate with far-flung offices instantly. But reading and answering it sucks up a lot of time, says Julie Morgenstern, author of Never Check E-mail in the Morning (Fireside 2005). She works with companies and executives to improve productivity. Here are some of her strategies to help you get more done at the office, manage email and hold on to your job: Why is it bad to check email in the morning? Morgenstern: Checking email is completely reactive. It's a bunch of interruptions and requests for things that other people need. People can't focus anymore. I want people to invest the first hour of the day in the most critical concentrative task. Do your strategic planning, for example, and then roll your shades up for business. You will be able to focus on other people's requests because your own critical to-do list is behind you. What are some bad habits that can get people fired? Morgenstern: A lack of strategic planning can get you fired. We just came out of an era in which people were proving their value through speed and accessibility, by getting back to everybody the minute they emailed, for example. Now, I think a premium is placed on innovation and coming up with the best ideas. Those are the people who are going to survive. What are some seemingly productive activities that hurt productivity? Morgenstern: Getting caught up in the idea that every customer comes before everything else can lower productivity. If you're teaching a colleague something and you drop that every time a client calls, you'll never develop your peer.
You end up getting caught in the idea that you have to do everything yourself. It's critical to spend time developing your team. Are there seemingly wasteful activities that can boost productivity? Morgenstern: A lot of people feel like planning their day is a waste of time. They think "I should be producing, not planning." Planning isn't wasteful at all. End every day by planning tomorrow, plus two days beyond that. I'm talking about 15 minutes. When you plan in advance, you can figure out not only what you can't do, but what you might be able to do in a more efficient way. Tell us a strategy people can use to improve efficiency. Morgenstern: Streamline your burdens through the "four Ds." Can I delete it? Can I delay it? Not procrastinate, but schedule it for a better time. Can I delegate it? Can I diminish it? As in, narrow the scope of a task so that it doesn't take as long. This is a very simple way to get tactical, find out what's missing and eliminate the tasks that are straining your time. Among the executives you've worked with, who are the best time managers? Morgenstern: Jonathan Tisch, chief executive officer of Loews Hotels, is excellent at time management. He's very realistic about what he can get done in a day. He needs to be accessible to his team, so he doesn't overstuff his schedule with meetings. He returns every call the day it comes in. When email came along, he added that in. He has a little bit of structure, he has strategic planning time, he has a few meetings and, in between, he makes sure he gets back to everybody.
Cathie Black, president of Hearst's magazine division, delegates extremely well. She empowers her people with clear direction so they can work independently. She's decisive and doesn't postpone decisions, which is a huge time trap. She's also very good at planning her time off so that it properly restores her. What do you think about multitasking? Morgenstern: It doesn't work. It takes the brain four times longer to process each thing it's working on when it's switching back and forth between tasks. If you're writing an email while talking on the phone while trying to finish your expense report, that 15-minute email will take you an hour. Train yourself to work sequentially. Figure out the maximum amount of time you can focus on each task. Then break your tasks down based on your ability to concentrate. How can people promote themselves to their superiors? Morgenstern: Talk to your boss and find out his big-picture goals, and how he's measuring results. Then spend the majority of your time on tasks that impact the revenue line. You also need to communicate your results, letting your boss know what you're getting done or how far you've gotten on a project. The more you communicate, the more you're visible and critical to your company. Are there other relationships workers should cultivate? Morgenstern: Look at the influential people on the tiers above you. Connect to people you want to be like, who you want to become. Scan your company, scan your division and hang out with them. And always make friends with assistants. They can get you on people's calendars. They're the oil of so many companies.