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The secret to personal productivity is mastering control. You need control over the information you receive on a daily basis, control over the tools that bring you that information, and control over your own behavior. If you can master control over these three things, you will be the most productive, and the most relaxed, all the time.

The biggest thing I hear people struggling with lately is communication. There are so many ways to receive information now that it’s having a real impact on how people think about their personal productivity. To master control of communication, you need a good process. And by process I mean a real, step-by-step, I-could-explain-it-to-you-if-you-asked, methodology. Taking email, for example:  most people’s “process” for managing email is “skim, then skip to the next one.” Does that sound familiar?

You need to figure out why it is you are skipping over messages: it’s probably either that you:

  • don’t know the answer
  • don’t feel like dealing with it now
  • think it will take too long
  • are looking for “just the important ones.”

So I suggest that the first component in your process be that you set aside time, every single day, to actually “process” your email messages.  All of your messages, not just the important ones.

During processing, start by allowing yourself at least one whole minute for each message. If you can read it in 10 seconds, and then would normally skip to the next one, allow yourself those extra 50 seconds. I’ll bet you’ll figure out what to do with it (and don’t leave it in your inbox!). The “stopping to think” is the biggest barrier to get over.

You won’t actually need a whole minute for each of them, and you may need more than a minute for others. This can help to protect you from the urge to check your email when you don’t really have time. The same is true for your Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, etc.

Set aside time each day. How often and for how long is up to you, but I suggest that it should be LESS than you originally think. And you should decide how long you’re going to spend before you log in. Set a timer if necessary.

Those are just a few things to think about to get you on the road to an actual process for dealing with information, so that you can master control over it. Tomorrow, we’ll talk about step 2: mastering control over the technology. If you have comments or ideas you’d like to share, I welcome them.