By Dean Whittaker

Modern life seems to consist of an abundance of information and a poverty of attention. Managing the flow of information through our lives has become a full-time endeavor.  Dealing with email alone feels to me like swatting flies. As soon as I swat one inbox message, another one or more appear.  Despite elaborate (read expensive) spam filters, I still have to deal with the few pieces of junk that slip through, and scan the filtered spam to insure that nothing important got “spammed.”  One time-and-motion expert estimates that by 2009 we will be spending 41% of our time managing email, not to mention our social networks, RSS feeds, and documents. If it feels like you may be approaching that figure already, read on.

Merlin Mann ( offers several ways to help manage that tidal wave of email:

  • Process your email rather than just checking it
  • Process it by: deleting, delegating (keep a reminder to follow up), responding, deferring (rarely), or doing it (whenever possible)
  • Limit your email responses to no more than five sentences
  • Do less email – turn off automatic notification (see Outlook help – email notification), and check only once per hour/day
  • Cheat – use filters to route email automatically into folders (see Outlook  help – folders)
  • Remind yourself that time and attention are finite
  • Move all of your old email into a “DMZ” folder and start fresh processing daily (but deal with DMZ mail later)
  • Declare “no email Fridays”
  • Blind Copy (bcc) your friends and family and tell them to call you if they really need to reach you
  • Remember what is important to you and focus your time and attention there.

In his book The Last Lecture, Randy Pausch recommends that we manage time explicitly, like money. He said, “Ask yourself: are you spending your time on the right things?” Develop a good filing system. Rethink the telephone by keeping unnecessary calls short and hang up on telemarketers while you are doing the talking (they will think the line went dead).  Delegate whenever possible and take a periodic time-out from technology.