Jamie Biesiada
Jamie Biesiada

I noticed an interesting email in my inbox a few weeks ago: MyAnalytics from Microsoft (I use Outlook for work emails).

Using my inbox, calendar and some other features I'm probably not aware of, Microsoft had created a productivity report, giving me some insights into how I work.

I say "some" insights because I use other tools outside of Microsoft's suite of organizational software, like Slack to communicate with coworkers in a chat setting. I also rarely use Outlook's calendar to keep track of things like phone calls that don't affect anyone's schedule but my own (which, I estimate, take up between 30% to 40% of any given day).

But it still gave me some interesting stats: In the past 12 months, I've emailed more than 500 people. Nearly 100 of my "collaborators," as Microsoft calls them, are active, or people I've emailed in the past month.

I also learned that I read almost all of my emails within 30 minutes of receiving them. Because of this, Microsoft suggests that I am, in its words, "distracted by email."

Its suggestion: "To maximize focus, try checking your inbox once an hour. If that works well, try upping your time to once every two hours."

I have to disagree. In my job, news is often broken via my inbox. Not keeping a near-constant eye on it could mean missing an important story.

In a lot of ways, I imagine the way I use email is similar to the way travel advisors do. Hot leads often come in the form of an email, whether from the client directly or from an online directory, such as ASTA's consumer-facing site, TravelSense.org, or one of the programs run by consortia and host agencies.

So I decided to check in with the Travel Institute for some best practices when it comes to productivity. (The Institute's Certified Travel Associate course and other educational resources touch on productivity.)

I asked Guida Botelho, director of training, how much time one should spend on email, and her answer was, it depends on the travel advisor.

"We recommend viewing time management in relation to self management," she said (funnily enough) via email. "In other words, the best solutions for productivity will vary based on an agent's specific role, and time spent should tie to 1) setting goals and 2) prioritizing time to meet those goals."

The Institute encourages advisors to balance time efficiently, perhaps by "prioritizing a to-do list versus simply maintaining one."

It also encourages advisors to set a time management goal and remove barriers to achieving that goal.

"Barriers include faulty beliefs such as believing you have to do everything yourself for it to be done well or that more hours worked automatically equates to greater results," Botelho said.

Finally, she encouraged the identification and reduction of common time wasters.

Botelho's example of how to do that made me particularly happy, because as an Inbox Zero person (love it or hate it), this is exactly how I treat all my emails (and, perhaps, why I read each one within 30 minutes).

Botelho recommended always taking one of three actions whenever you touch a piece of paper or open an email:
• Act on it immediately or delegate the responsibility along with the authority to accomplish the task
• File the paper and prioritize it on your to-do list
• Simply dispose of it immediately

I encourage you to join me in acting, filing or disposing of email and keeping a clean inbox. It has done wonders for my productivity.

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