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How to Use Deferred Email

4 Tips to streamline your life by setting email messages for future delivery

By
Stever Robbins,
September 21, 2011
Episode #191

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Procrastination is the subject of an entire chapter of my book, Get-it-Done Guy's 9 Steps to Work Less and Do More. It's common, and we usually think of it as our enemy. But anything that powerful can also be a force for good. Today, we're going to procrastinate usefully. We're going to procrastinate email. It's possible to write email today, but delay it, so it actually arrives someday in the future. That little delay turns email from a tool for overload into a tool for making life way better.

Here are my 4 Quick and Dirty Tips to use deferred email to your advantage:

Tip #1: Slow Down Conversations

Some people use email like a conversation. You send them a brief note, and they reply with a 10-page missive telling you about the emotional hurdles they've tackled in getting over the death of their pet bird, Fluffy…11 years ago.

If you send your sympathetic reply immediately, you'll be treated to an instantaneous response, with more heartfelt outbursts than one person should ever be subjected to.

Personal connection is important, but so is your sanity. When you're in a conversation that's distracting you from work, simply delay your responses. You can compose your homage to Fluffy the Bird now, and send it to be delivered in two days. You keep the connection going, but slow it down to a manageable pace.

Tip #2: Clear To-Do List Clutter

Sometimes to-do items appear that aren't quite appropriate for today, but you don't want them cluttering up your calendar or spending weeks on your to-do list. Here’s an example: Bernice realized that at some point, she's going to have to tell her boyfriend Melvin that they're getting married. She hasn't decided when, however. If she adds it to her to-do list now, she'll have to keep confronting, er, looking at it every time she handles her daily tasks. And she's certainly not ready to schedule the announcement. Besides, if Melvin sees her to-do list or calendar, it would spoil the surprise.

Delayed email saves the day! Bernice just schedules two emails to herself to arrive in six weeks. The first email is a reminder to order Jim and Pam's wedding episode from The Office. The second email is to buy cheese puffs, Melvin's favorite snack food, for when they watch the episode together. She figures he'll be so motivated by seeing Jim and Pam's wonderful wedding that he'll get the hint and propose. Then she can reveal that the wedding is already planned and just a few weeks away.

Tip #3: Defer Things You Don’t Want to Handle Now

Vice Chairman Europa also uses deferred email. In her case, it's not so much about specific tasks as it is about big issues she'll have to deal with (eventually). One of her business competitors has been stealing market share from her in three different economies. She knows she'll need to do something about this (eventually), but she has other things to worry about right now. Competition hasn't reached crisis proportions, and besides, her super-genius son Thomas hasn't perfected the disintegrating ray, yet. It's supposed to be available for beta-testing in six months. That will make negotiations much easier.

Europa sends herself a deferred email scheduled to arrive at the start of the beta test, in six months. In the email body, she includes links to the market intelligence about her competitor, plus her current thinking about the issue. When the email arrives, she can review the issue and deal with it then and there, defer it again, or decide it's no longer a concern.

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