In my current job, I work almost exclusively with electronic materials and it's caused a problem for me that I never had in my previous job where I worked almost exclusively with physical materials.
The problem stems from the fact that these materials often come to me in the form of an email from someone in our Acquisitions Unit. For some reason, these materials seem more urgent than a physical item that has been ordered and which goes into our backlog until someone has the time to catalog it.
In short, electronic materials can't be put on a truck to get to them as you have time. And when "ordering season" is in full-swing, I can get as many as 10 emails in a day.
I sometimes let ongoing projects or low-priority projects languish for weeks on end while I deal with these electronic materials, mostly because I give the electronic materials priority when they aren't materials that are urgently needed by users.
Luckily, this is merely frustrating and not terribly harmful to our users. I hate being a slave to my email. I want to get out of the I'll do it later mentality and work on the things that I really need to get done in any given day.
I've identified three things that can help me do this:
1. Use the "work offline" feature in Outlook if I need to be in my email, but don't want to see new messages. I often find myself stopping what I'm doing when getting new messages while working on a task that arose from an email. It's easy, I think,I'll just dash off a quick response. What I've learned, though, is that dashing off a response is rarely quick. I end up jumping down rabbit holes and before I know it, I've worked on a problem for much longer than I expected. Using the "work offline" feature lets me be in my email, but also lets me address new messages when I'm not distracted.
2. Evernote. Oh how I love thee, Evernote. I love how seemlessly it moves from my work computer to my iPhone to my netbook. I can keep track of everything I want to do, read, blog about, or listen to. For work, though, my favorite feature is how I can make Notes out of emails and flag them as to-dos or as things awaiting a response from other people.
3. My week-at-a-glance worksheet. I made this worksheet that has boxes for each day where I can record meetings or appointments and my "Most Important Thing." The MIT is the one task that I really want to get done and which takes priority over all other tasks. I ususally work on that after checking my email in the morning. I put all of the to-dos from the morning's email in a cleverly named "To do" folder in Outlook. I do my MIT and then go back and work on things in my "To do" folder.
3a. I've started giving each day of the week a designation.
Monday = Plan your week
Tuesday = Electronic stuff
Wednesday = Committee work (non-cataloging work that I need to do)
Thursday = Junky stuff (these are projects that have landed on my desk which are...messy)
Friday = Wrap-it-up day (wrap up projects, update Evernote, send emails, etc.)
These daily designations are on my worksheet and govern how I spend my afternoon. I usually spend the morning answering emails, doing my MIT, and working on some urgent-ish to-dos. So I spend the afternoon working on projects that correspond with my daily designation.
This 3-part system has made all the difference for me. I'm able to do the most urgent task for every day and make sure that no project languishes for more than a week. It's made me more productive and less stressed out.
I think that whatever organizational system you use, it's important to find one that works for you. Having an idea of how you want to spend your time means you're less tied to email and less busy doing work that is important to other people, but not urgent.
Be proactive. Be visible. Be awesome.