Dealing with lots of 2 minute tasks

davegarner

Registered
Hi guys,
First-time poster but getting loads of value from these forums - Thank You.
My situation is this. I am trying to limit the amount of time I spend in email to around 2 x 1-hour timeframes per day (one AM and one PM) in order to get more time focussing on "deep" work. I am an Operations Director for an Arts company that runs a Performing Arts Centre and an Art Gallery. I often will receive many emails that aren't urgent but can be answered within two minutes via email or call. The urgent ones I answer immediately, but in order to cut down time in email, I am preferring to push the non-urgent responses to a "Daily Admin" timeframe (first thing in the morning as my first email session).

My question is:
Would you create a Daily Admin project and push non-urgent email responses to that and attend to it each day (seeing it as a list rather than sequential actions of a project), or use #email and #call context to sort in the morning email "session", and then capture any new emails/calls that crop up during the day in the afternoon session? Or would you just respond then and there if it is under a couple of minutes?

Dave
 

Gardener

Registered
If I were doing this, I would do whatever consumes the absolute minimum amount of time and attention outside the Daily Admin window. So the instant that I realized that an email wasn't urgent, I would drag it to a "daily admin" folder in my email application, and do nothing more with it until I got to the appropriate admin window. I would try to do as much as possible of this work with automatic filters, to avoid, whenever possible, even seeing the email until it was time to deal with it.

I definitely wouldn't respond then and there. Then again, I don't believe in the two minute rule. :) I believe the research that says that a mental switch costs you at least twelve minutes, and often more. If I've already MADE the switch, I might do the two minute thing, which is why I'm suggesting an absolute minimum of attention to these emails through the day, to avoid dragging your mind out of the deep work.
 

mcogilvie

Registered
Email is not a project. It’s a context. How you manage it depends in part on how much you get per day. How many 2-minute emails do you get on an average day? How much time do you need for longer ones? Is two hours a day enough? Do you have the energy you need to deal with them when you are trying to deal with them? Is there something better to be doing first thing in the morning?
I don‘t think GTD has a definite, for everybody, answer to what you’re asking. GTD stresses situational awareness, at multiple levels, and the need to get things objectified and clarified. From that point of view, I would say you are backwards. If “deep work” is the most important part of your job (and it may not be- it isn’t for air traffic controllers), then it may be that what you need to do is protect and schedule that time, not email time. If I get 2 hours in a day to work on important things early in the morning, then I am probably happy for the rest of the day.
 

John Ismyname

Registered
My basic email method is this.;
  1. In your email client, create two new folders called "today" and "tomorrow"
  2. At the start of your first email session, move in-bulk, all the email from your inbox to your new "today" box. (You just achieved "inbox-zero" congratulations!)
  3. You know the GTD rule - process it to zero! my GTD exceptions are the tomorrow box (not GTD) and something that might be better left hanging in your today box (also not GTD).
  4. Don't look at your inbox until you are ready to start your afternoon session. Your email will still be there waiting. If it's urgent, the sender will call. If the sender doesn't have your phone number, how urgent can it really be?
I violated my email rule today as I MUST continually check my email for something urgent. This is cutting into my ability to focus on "deep work".
 
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Jared Caron

Nursing leader; GTD enthusiast
Hi guys,
First-time poster but getting loads of value from these forums - Thank You.
My situation is this. I am trying to limit the amount of time I spend in email to around 2 x 1-hour timeframes per day (one AM and one PM) in order to get more time focussing on "deep" work. I am an Operations Director for an Arts company that runs a Performing Arts Centre and an Art Gallery. I often will receive many emails that aren't urgent but can be answered within two minutes via email or call. The urgent ones I answer immediately, but in order to cut down time in email, I am preferring to push the non-urgent responses to a "Daily Admin" timeframe (first thing in the morning as my first email session).

My question is:
Would you create a Daily Admin project and push non-urgent email responses to that and attend to it each day (seeing it as a list rather than sequential actions of a project), or use #email and #call context to sort in the morning email "session", and then capture any new emails/calls that crop up during the day in the afternoon session? Or would you just respond then and there if it is under a couple of minutes?

Dave
Depends.

The 2 min rule can be a lifesaver; it can also crush you if you have high volume. (10 x 2 min emails = 20 mins, adds up quick!)

I'm guessing based on your post that you probably have high volume.

I agree with @mcogilvie about 'scheduling' your email time. It sounds nice on paper but in practice, email input is too unpredictable IMO.

Consider a few strategies that I and others have used:
  • try an @reply folder or @2 min folder; you can sequester this stuff here and chip at it through the day during odd time windows, (esp if you use mobile email at all). The hazard here would be not looking at/working it regularly
  • Consider what you could delegate. Are you really the best person to answer every one of those emails? Though the warm handoff may still be a 2-min email, you may reduce your volume over time by building trust in more appropriate channels.
  • Also, consider renegotiating communication methods with your key teammates and internal customers; I find people default to email for many routine things that can be handled in standup meetings or some other higher fidelity mode of communication.
As was mentioned before, not sure there's a silver bullet for this, but those are some suggestions you can experiment with.
 

OliverG

GTD Connect
Hm, correct me if I am wrong:

To figure out that this is a non urgent 2 min task you had to read the mail, right?

Do you still remember everything in your admin window or do you have to read the mail again?

If yes I leave you to ponder the consequence and efficiency of this approach.

I usually say:

"You can do a 2 minute or less task NOW in 1:30 min or LATER in 3 min.
Pick one."
 

Gardener

Registered
"You can do a 2 minute or less task NOW in 1:30 min or LATER in 3 min.
Pick one."
But that theory doesn't address the cost of the interruption. It's not, IMO, about the 1:30 versus the three minutes; it's about the 1:30 PLUS the twelve minutes or more that it takes to get back up to speed on the main task.

I don't know about the original poster, but I'd say that I can usually judge whether an email is urgent in, oh, two or three seconds. Often just the sender or subject is enough, and if not, seeing the first few words does the job. That's an amount of time that just barely grazes my brain and is unlikely to drag it out of what I was doing. (I realize that's an assertion not bolstered by evidence; I would be curious to see a study.)

While if I actually ANSWERED the email, that would drag my brain out of what I was doing--and that is, I believe, bolstered by evidence, though I'm too lazy to go find the "one interruption costs you twelve minutes", "only full focused hours count", "only full focused four-hour blocks count", "programmers protected from interruptions are 10X as productive as programmers who aren't", studies and theories, and I don't really expect you to take my word for it.

Now, it would be even better to be able to just ignore the emails, but I realize that for some circumstances that may not be possible.
 
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OliverG

GTD Connect
But that theory doesn't address the cost of the interruption. It's not, IMO, about the 1:30 versus the three minutes; it's about the 1:30 PLUS the twelve minutes or more that it takes to get back up to speed on the main task.
OK, I do not scan the inbox randomly but ONLY when I am prepared to also do clarifying and such: 2 minute tasks.
I DO have a 'new mail pop-up' because I have learned to look at it and ignore it if it is not something I need to work on right now.
I don't know about the original poster, but I'd say that I can usually judge whether an email is urgent in, oh, two or three seconds. Often just the sender or subject is enough, and if not, seeing the first few words does the job.
I am sure you are not one of the persons that I ... ehm.. sometimes encounter who say: "Oh, I never read THAT part of the e-mail." ;)

That's an amount of time that just barely grazes my brain and is unlikely to drag it out of what I was doing. (I realize that's an assertion not bolstered by evidence; I would be curious to see a study.)
I wonder why you are in your inbox at all ;)
But as I said before I share this: If the interruption is VERY short it can/might be able to be be ignored.
While if I actually ANSWERED the email, that would drag my brain out of what I was doing--and that is, I believe, bolstered by evidence, though I'm too lazy to go find the "one interruption costs you twelve minutes", "only full focused hours count", "only full focused four-hour blocks count", "programmers protected from interruptions are 10X as productive as programmers who aren't", studies and theories, and I don't really expect you to take my word for it.

Now, it would be even better to be able to just ignore the emails, but I realize that for some circumstances that may not be possible.
Hm, I'd say:
If you are not prepared to do a 2 min email you should not look at your inbox to start clarifying.

OK, exception:
I leave for an appointment (a thing we did before the world ended...) and make sure it was not canceled by mail...

But by now I acquired enough peace of mind to SEE the other mails without feeling any urge to work on them NOW.

Same as I can see mail headlines in the evening on my sofa and say: "I'll look at you tomorrow."
 

Gardener

Registered
I am sure you are not one of the persons that I ... ehm.. sometimes encounter who say: "Oh, I never read THAT part of the e-mail." ;)
Oh, I read the whole email, just not the instant it arrives.

If you are not prepared to do a 2 min email you should not look at your inbox to start clarifying.
I'm totally not in the inbox to start clarifying, in these situations. I will glance at my email if I'm waiting for a high-urgency answer, or if there's an ongoing situation that might require a high-urgency answer from me. I may also have a quick glance at any email from my manager that doesn't have a subject line that indicates that it's a totally bread-and-butter communication.

Glancing at my email in these situations is sort of like not muting the ringer on my phone.
 
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