If you find you’re spending far too much of your time trapped in your email inbox, here is a very simple tip to free you from its evil clutches. Many scores of people use Microsoft Outlook, or some other desktop email application. While web mail tools such as Google Apps are amazing, and should be adopted by many more business, there is still this fear of the “cloud”, but that’s a whole other store. That fear leads companies to continue to use systems such as Microsoft Exchange to handle email. Anywhere that Exchange is used basically means that all employees will be using a desktop email application, and it will most likely be Outlook.
Outlook does a lot of things. One thing it does by default is open any email that is selected in a “reading pane”. This means that without actually “opening” the email, you can read it. Sounds great, right? You can quickly move on to the next email without being concerned with too many clicks to open the email in a new window. I thought, for a long time, that the reading pane was great. That was until a colleague of mine opened my eyes to a better, more efficient way to process email.
It’s really easy, just disable the reading pane. Sounds crazy, but here’s why I believe it works.
With the reading pane open, when you finish with one email the next one will automatically appear. Your inquisitive brain will want to read the new email. So you read it, you process it and move on, only to see that the next email has appeared in the reading pane and your eyes again start to read the content. Is there no end to this madness? This kind of cycle can easily suck hours out of your day.
By disabling the reading pane the only content you can review before actually making a conscious decision to read further, is the subject line. That’s it. With the reading pane gone you have to make the choice to read an email instead of the email application making the choice for you. You will once again be in control. It becomes very easy to read and process the email you need to and then remove yourself from your inbox to allow you to do more productive activities.
This tip seems so simple that it just couldn’t work. But take from someone that was a non-believe before trying it and now will never go back – it works.
Web-based email tools such as Gmail, Hotmail and so on, have got this one right. There is no reading pane in these apps. All you see is your list of emails and you have to choose what to read and what to ignore. If you think about how you use your work and personal email accounts now (if you use a web email app), you’re probably much faster at process your inbox in Gmail than your are in Outlook. What’s the real difference? The reading pane. Kill it.
In some applications the reading pane is called the “preview pane”. This tip can be applied to most other desktop email applications, including Apple Mail and Thunderbird.
Over to you now. I challenge you to switch off the reading pane in your email application. Go ahead and do it now…. great! Try it for the next few days and if you’re not convinced that you have better control over the time you spend in your inbox switch it back on. Either way, post your experience in the comments below.