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Bar News - June 23, 2006

Savvy Tips for Seizing Control of Your E-Mail, Tasks, Life


Michael Linenberger’s book, Total Workday Control Using Microsoft Outlook: The Eight Best Practices of Task and E-Mail Management, reveals some surprisingly simple tips for getting ahead and staying ahead of your work in the “Age of E-Mail.”


• Resolve to quit storing e-mails in your inbox. Most of us leave important e-mails in our e-mail inbox with the intention of returning to them later to act upon them. “You must track all tasks in Outlook’s Task system,” says Linenberger. “It’s the key to everything. The relief of having one prioritized place to look for to-dos is amazing.”


• Immediately convert e-mails to tasks as soon as you read them. It’s simple. Just click on the e-mail and drag it to the task icon. You’ll have to give it a name and the naming process alone helps you think in terms of taking action. “Once you start doing this, you’ll cease needing to constantly re-read e-mails, which saves a huge amount of time.”


Make two task lists; one daily, one long-term. Not surprisingly, your long-term list will be much longer than your daily list. The “two list” system allows you to: keep the most important tasks right in front of you; keep lower priority tasks out of sight so you don’t feel overwhelmed, and separate long-term tasks from short-term tasks.


• Break down tasks into bite-sized mini-projects and next steps. “Maybe two of the items on your long-term list are ‘write quarterly report’ and ‘landscape yard,’” says Linenberger. “Both of these are big tasks….You must break them into small mini-projects and then figure out which next step should go on your list. The simple act of making a big task manageable dramatically increases the likelihood that you’ll do it. It staves off procrastination.”


• First thing every morning, prioritize with the “going home” test. Prioritizing is definitely a tricky proposition. Linenberger suggests that you start your day by asking yourself, out loud, the question, “What two or three items on this list, if they’re not done, will keep me from going home today?” Then set a goal to get them done early in the day. “And best of all, at 5 p.m., you can actually go home—no guilt, no tight stomach, no plea-filled calls to your spouse. It’s a great feeling, and it can change your whole attitude about work.”


• Sort your tasks with oldest tasks in the lowest position in your list. Interestingly, most systems recommend that your oldest, incomplete tasks should get the most attention. They may suggest that you put the oldest items at the top of your list, marked in red as “overdue.” Linenberger strongly disagrees. “You should put your newest tasks at the top of your list,” he asserts. “Why? Because they hold the most energy. They are most relevant.”


Michael Linenberger is vice president of Technology for Connection to eBay, an Accenture Service. For more information on Linenberger’s book, go to


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