Show your inbox who's the boss

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(MoneyWatch) I sound like a broken record sometimes: Email is not your job. It's a tool to do your job. Or try this chestnut: Your inbox is not your to-do list. For many people, life would be massively improved by checking email just a few times per day.

But what if you can't batch process? I was talking with some consultants recently from a company where (in the usual consulting model) the managers supervise multiple projects at once. They don't have set hours in set places, and so they're often prepping a team for one meeting while they're in the airport waiting to fly to another. The BlackBerry becomes the lifeline. You don't want to hold up your colleagues by being artificially inaccessible. Also, if you don't respond immediately to a client, someone else will -- and the consultant's currency in life is client relationships.

I noted that these consultants fly all over -- meaning they're already inaccessible for big chunks of time. I still believe the desire for constant contact is more psychological than anything else. That said, there are situations where you don't want to check and respond to email only at 10 a.m., 3 p.m. and 8 p.m. How can you be responsive, and still maintain time to be pro-active, not just reactive?

I think the best bet is to do mini batch processing. You can get a lot done in 30 minutes if you're not toggling back and forth from one thing to another. If you've got an hour that's not booked for a meeting or a phone call, split it 30 minutes disconnected, then 30 minutes on. Edit a document, write a memo, think through your next pitch. Then dive into your inbox. Set your alarm to go off 30 minutes later and then tackle your next task that requires focused thought. If you find yourself getting good at this, you can try going 35 minutes off, 25 minutes on or even (crazy!) 40 minutes off, 20 on.

The point is, many things don't get responded to within 30 minutes anyway, even if your nose is constantly in your inbox. Better to use that reality to your advantage than to never make time for non-email work during the day.

How do you show your inbox who's boss?

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