Master your workday now banner



Most of us are bogged down at work. We run an urgent race that we often lose.

Emails keep flooding in, coworkers make repeated requests, and meetings rob your valuable time. It’s as if you are making little or no progress at all on your work and on your goals.

We definitely need a new approach.

The solution is a concept Michael Linenberger calls “Master your workday now”. It’s about attaining workday mastery.

“Workday Mastery is that feeling and knowledge that work is flowing smoothly, that workday chaos is a thing of the past, that your goals are clear and attainable, and that your career is developing just the way you want.”

“The book Master your workday now will show you how to manage your workday—right now; it will show you how to get control of your workday and increase your productivity quickly.”

“The workday now solution” comes from more than thirty creative years in the business world. It also comes from insights found in books, seminars and speeches. As of 2010, over 25,000 people were using elements of Michael’s solution with great success.

When you master your workday now, you’ll feel that work is progressing smoothly. Your workday chaos will be under control and overall, you’ll feel that your goals are being reached.


master your workday now by michael linenberger


PART I- Controlling Your Workday Now

In Master your workday now, Part I delivers different methods for you to control tasks. It also helps get ahead of everything that the workday throws at you. It’s about getting things done and achieving peace of mind.

In this part, Michael Linenberger presents a control-layer system that helps you regulate and lessen the load of tasks you focus on. You’ll also be given control-layer tools that help you get clear about what is on your plate at any given time. Once you get clarity, you’ll be more motivated and that feeling greatly improves your ability to enjoy work.

It’s possible to control your workday rather than it controlling you.

MASTER YOUR WORKDAY NOW CHAPTER 1- Control Your Work Before Work Controls You

Most of us have an overclocked pace because of the workload. We make commitments that we are unlikely to honor. And we are stressed out because there are too many things to do and so little time. We start to freak out as we miss different opportunities, obligations and desired outcomes. In the end, our lack of productivity makes us feel guilty.

It’s true that the majority of people just try to keep their heads above water. But is it possible to get your workday under control?  The answer is a resounding yes.

In the first part of this book, we’ll learn how to eliminate the blur and how to regulate our work. It’s crucial to know exactly what work is on our set.

MASTER YOUR WORKDAY NOW CHAPTER 2- A Quick Start for Gaining Control

You can use different formats to apply the principles taught here (software, application…). But Michael recommends using a simple pen or pencil and at least two sheets of paper.

It’s a control-layer solution that the author calls “Workday mastery-to-do list”. The goal is to get your workday under control within a few minutes. Here’s how:

Master your workday now: Try this now on paper

  1. Take out a piece of paper, either lined or blank (or open your word processor or spreadsheet program), and at the very top, centered on the page, place the label “Now Tasks List.”
  2. Just below that, flush left, write the label “Critical Now (must do today).”
  3. Then about one-third of the way down the page, write the label (also flush left) “Opportunity Now (start this week or next, review list daily)”. That’s it for the first page.
  4. Then take another piece of paper, and at the top of that page, write the title “Over the Horizon (Review Weekly).”

You’ve now got the basic Workday Mastery To-Do List in hand, all on only two pages.

Populate the List

Take all the to-do lists you might have, even in your head. Enter at the top of the first sheet all the tasks you know you need to complete today.  Don’t forget to look in your email inbox to make sure there isn’t an action waiting for you.

“Write into the next section (the one titled Opportunity Now), those tasks that aren’t due today but that you would like to start as soon as possible. Write down any tasks you would like to work on if you had the opportunity to fit them in today or soon.”

“And then, on the next page, the one labeled “ Over the Horizon,” enter any tasks that are fairly low-priority and you know you don’t need to get to for a few weeks or more. That could be a big list. “

“That’s it; you have now started using the Workday Mastery To-Do List.”

Master your workday now

How to Use This List

You’ll have everything in one place, that’s the main advantage when you use this system.

Critical now (First paper)

As you work with the critical now tasks, don’t overfill this section. It’s what you must do today and only today. Ask yourself: “Would I stay up late after work if I really have to do it?” If the answer is no, don’t put it there.

Opportunity now (First paper)

In the opportunity now section are listed tasks you can start working on if you have the “opportunity”. If you have time, then fine; but do not put more than 20 items on this section. If you have more, try to identify the low priority tasks and move them to the next sheet of paper, into the “over the horizon” section.

“If an Opportunity Now task has a specific deadline, enter the date of that deadline right at the start of the task description.” For example: DUE November 13, finished summary of the book “Getting things done by David Allen”.

Over the horizon (Second paper)

In the” over the horizon” page, write down all the tasks that are beyond your concern right now. These are the tasks with low priority. You still want to manage the tasks and not forget them. There’s no real limit to the “over horizon section”. The goal is to empty your mind and list out everything. A weekly review is recommended for this list.

That’s the Workday Mastery to-do list described in Master your workday now. The first time I knew about this method, I applied it and I can guarantee that it delivered its promises (and I’m not paid to review the book btw).


To find a cure to a problem, we must identify its root. Ask yourself: “Why do I feel overwhelmed (or possibly even fearful) about the amount of work on my plate?” Chances are high that you have much to do.

Michael Linenberger agrees that some people are overloaded. The inefficient approach to their work might be the problem for many as he says. For example, you waste your day answering unimportant emails instead of optimizing your time.

The first part of the book focuses on that basic question: “How do I control my workday so I do not suffer the angst of getting behind, of feeling overwhelmed, of not meeting expectations—both others’ and my own?”

If most people avoid tension in the workplace, Michael maintains that a little tension can help get people moving.

“Whether you put tension on yourself or others impose it on you, that emotion can be useful to motivate you to get things done and stay ahead.”

In most cases, we resist change, even good change because it creates a certain tension. But creative tension can be good. It is a sure sign that we are changing for the better. In the book Mastery by George Leonard we talked about Homeostasis, a natural tendency to get back to our old state and avoid change.

Urgency Is a Fact of Work Life

At the busy workplace, urgency creates both tension and stress. We are talking about the feeling that you have when you are pushed to move too fast on something. Maybe you created that sense of urgency yourself, or maybe other people induced it to you.

But as the author explains, urgency is normal and needed. It can be a management tool, even a self-management tool.  Urgency motivates and stimulates the student who finishes his homework at the very last minutes.

Urgency Taken Too Far

“So, no, we should not try to eliminate urgency from the workplace. But urgency, if taken too far, also wears us down. Clearly, we need timeouts from urgency. Even a good action movie has slow parts where you catch your breath, where the tension is resolved. And you do not want the urgent episodes to last too long or become too intense.”

What then is the difference between a sense of urgency that creates positive tension and one that creates stress?  Think about a time when too many urgent things pile on top of one another, all at once. It becomes overwhelming and no longer stimulating. All zest for work is lost as this continues hour after hour and then day after day.

“When too many urgent items pile on top of us, day after day, and we feel we cannot come up for air. We feel like we have lost control.”

“What typically leads us to this? Well, certainly, it is a high volume of things to do in proportion to the time we have. If we try to do them all at once, it feels overwhelming.”

Working Low Priority First Is the Biggest Issue

At the end of the day, the never-ending pile of urgent tasks creates lots of stress. In addition, it also leads to a lack of clarity about your to-do-list. Subsequently, we are unable to measure the true priority of things and we often work on low-priority items at the expense of high-priority ones just because they are in front of us.

“E-mail is the largest low-priority culprit these days.”  More and more people are spending hours a day managing their email, and they wonder why they can’t get their job done.

Is Prioritization the Answer?

“Knowing what tasks are important to do will help solve the lack-of clarity problem I just outlined. However, once work reaches a certain volume, a simple “do the important tasks first” approach will stop working.”

Prioritization works only with a low volume of tasks. As soon as the list reaches 40 to 140 tasks, you’ll encounter stress and lack of clarity because everything seems important.

The real problem lies in how we measure importance. Sometimes, an important task is only important for those who gave it to us, maybe our Boss or our direct collaborators. Similarly, importance is very subjective. We might find something important when we get emotional but overtime, we no longer consider it as important and skip to another task.

“All of these issues can lead to an excessive abundance of “important” tasks, and an unusable system.”

Is Getting Organized the Solution?

“Maybe there is a way to organize our work such that the correct priority of tasks becomes more evident”

“If our work were more organized, the feeling of being overwhelmed would diminish, and that could have a positive effect on our work”

“Getting organized can make you more efficient at finding things. And prioritization is a form of organizing that helps you focus on the highest-priority items first.”

Chapter 3 summary

We feel overwhelmed at work because there are too many urgent items arriving at once. We fail to categorize which task is most urgent and that’s the main problem. Once we solve it, we gain efficiency.

We also saw that prioritization could be the solution even if prioritization requires first identifying the most important task. But separating the most and least important is often complicated and it remains a big barrier to our productivity (subjectivity, a big list of tasks on our to-do-list).

In the end, organizing our work might be the solution. Michael Linenberger proposes in the next section how to use a sense of urgency and include it into a proven system to get more organized.

To the author, “recognizing urgency ends up being the key to the solution.” The next section explains how to do that.


Michael Linenberger presents a system that will help you identify what’s most urgent and what isn’t.

This system will give you ways to shorten your list down to a reasonable level, without anything critical neglected.

The results will be tangible as you’ll feel more organized. It adds order, it’s lightweight, you’ll save plenty of time and you will be able to “focus on the most critical tasks first so that you do not waste time on low-value work”.

“The solution is based on the Workday Now concept in this book. It removes that feeling of being overwhelmed and shows what needs to be done, now.”

Mental models

“The concept behind the Workday Now solution is as much psychological as logical.”

To help you understand why we get anxious at work, why we worry and why we put off some important tasks, we need to model reality with mental models.

Mental models are mental representations of reality. It’s composed of “mental image or assumptions about how things in the world outside of us exist.” “By this definition our model is usually incomplete or inaccurate when compared to the actual thing we are modeling.”

It’s similar to a map that represents reality. As described in the book the 7 habits of highly effective people by Stephen Covey a map is not the territory, it’s not reality, just the representation of reality.


The Workday Now Mental Model

Let’s look at that mental model.  In a typical out-of-control workday there are two harsh realities:

#1: As a busy professional you can’t reasonably do everything.  You will think about and be given many more tasks, meetings and emails than you could decently handle.

#2: While you know that your most important goals and outcomes should guide your activities each day, it is often the urgency that determines what you will do each day.

On a busy work day, we tend to focus first on emergencies, then on urgent things that need to be completed quickly, then on things that are a little less urgent, etc.  In the middle of these tasks there are meetings, interruptions and diversions.

“In general, though, our focus is based on time and urgency, and there is one aspect of this mental model that stands out the most: something that the author calls your Workday Now Horizon.”

Identifying Your Workday Now Horizon

To understand why our focus is based on time and urgency, let’s take an example:

“If someone (not your boss or an important client) tried to insert a half-day project into your currently very busy schedule, giving you no permission to drop other items, and then asked you to complete it tomorrow, I am pretty sure you would say, “No, I am too busy right now.” However, even with the same workload, if that request were due, say, two months from now (and you had some interest in it), you would probably say “fine.”

“Somewhere in the range between tomorrow and two months is the date after which you stop feeling too busy, as you mentally gaze from now on into the future.”

“So somewhere between one and two weeks is this threshold of work concern. It is the Workday Now Horizon or Now Horizon for short”

The Now Horizon delineates what commitments you consider when you think about what is in your to-do list now.  Most busy people feel anxious and stressed when they think about their workload within the boundaries of the horizon.

When they think about things beyond that horizon, however, they relax, even if there is no expected change in their workload.

Now, unless your work is seasonal, you don’t actually have to be less busy: you just imagine that you will be.  This is a classic mental model where the mental image does not match reality.

For most of the people Michael Linenberger talked to, The Current Horizon usually ends at 1.5 weeks.

Think about what Horizon means.  If you imagine yourself on the beach, looking out over the ocean, the horizon is the line beyond which you cannot see further because of the curvature of the earth.

horizon as a sight-distance

“Similarly, your Now Horizon is that time edge of work beyond which you do not mentally see your future work clearly, and so it seems less troubling.”


horizon as a time concept

The Conveyor Belt and Treadmill

Let’s convert this mental model into another one that many people have when they work: that of a line work on a conveyor belt.  Employees in a factory typically work near a conveyor belt on which physical objects are brought to them.  Their working speed is controlled by the speed of the conveyor belt.

Office knowledge workers do not have a physical treadmill. But they often describe their work and themselves as being on such a treadmill: they run around and manage incoming tasks and requests as best they can.

“Combining all the above, here is a useful model. Imagine a man or woman walking in place on the left end of a moving treadmill-like conveyor belt that stretches a far distance to the right; for simplicity of discussion we’ll assume it is a man for now. He is facing and walking toward the right end at a speed that just keeps him in place above the left end of the moving belt (see Figure 4.3).”

treadmill mental model

The things that are right in front of him are the tasks that need to be accomplished immediately. As he accomplishes them, he progressively piles them into a mental “task accomplished” stack and moves on to the next item in front of him.

Workday Now Defined

“The time period between the immediate now and the Now Horizon is what I call your Workday Now”

“It is the time period you are thinking about now at work. It is a very important period of time because it is the period we put nearly all our energy and attention on.”

the workday now defined

The Rate of Work Is What Matters

In this model, becoming too busy is related to the pace of work.  If your tasks arrive at the same frequency as the ones you execute, you feel good.  If the pace nonetheless is too high without you being able to increase your rate of task completion, you will feel stressed. They will pile up, and some of them will fall on the other side of the treadmill.

You would not be able to process all of them and start to miss opportunities and deadlines, creating lots of regrets and anxiety about work.

Chapter summary

This chapter is entitled: “What is your workday now?”

We’ve seen the mental models that mention the existence of a 1, 5 week period in which most of our focus goes in. That period is like a conveyor belt or treadmill with continuous tasks coming in. The faster the pace, the more stressed and overwhelmed we become.

Managing your work starts with understanding this zone. You’ll be more productive and feel less stressed.

MASTER YOUR WORKDAY NOW CHAPTER 5 – The Power of Urgency Zones

The “workday now model” that we’ve just seen in Chapter 4 helps us define “urgency zones”. It’s important to use these urgency zones intelligently so that we better manage our work. In this chapter, we’ll delve deeply into these urgency zones.

Crazy Busy

If you mismanage your concentration at work, you’ll soon end up with an “everything is a fire” mentality.

Maybe it already happened to you: you are very busy the whole day and you did this “into a froth, trying to get it all done in a superhuman way. Your pace is so fast and imbalanced that everything you see seems like an emergency; even minor e-mail requests hitting your in-box throw you into action mode.”

In fact, although you may think that your superhuman velocity is necessary and effective, it is usually not. Working in these conditions will cause lack of focus, attention deficit disorder (ADD) and even degraded brain functionality.

Michael Linenberger recommends the “Master your workday now” or manage your workday now method which clearly distinguishes different urgency zones.

“Managing tasks using urgency zones as taught here can balance these imbalances in our chaotic day. It does this simply by bringing to the surface underlying distinctions in task urgency, and placing them right in plain view. That way we clearly identify what truly requires our intense focus, and use such focus only on those items; we can relax appropriately on the rest.”

The three urgency zones explained in Master your workday now

We saw in chapter 2 of Master your workday now the paper based version of Michael’s system.

Managing your tasks starts with using the three areas of urgency taught in this book – Criticism Now, Opportunities Now, and Beyond the Horizon. It can help balance the imbalances of a chaotic day.

The three urgency zones are:

Critical Now Tasks (the tasks that get most of your attention and urgency)

Opportunity Now Tasks (these are non-critical tasks, the tasks inside your workday now, other than the ones you must absolutely do today)

Over-the-Horizon Tasks (the tasks beyond your current consideration)

urgency zones

The Two Most Important System Rules

  • “First, only place items in the Critical Now list if they pass the going home test: Would you work late into the night to complete these if they were not done? If no, do not put the item on the list. This stringent test will reduce that list to a very reasonable size—you will rarely have more than three to five items on the Critical Now list—and usually fewer. That greatly reduces your daily stress level, and allows you to focus better. “
  • “The second management technique is to keep the Opportunity Now Tasks list to fewer than 20 items by moving the lowest-priority items to the Over-the-Horizon list. This represents a Control-layer activity and is probably the hardest part of the process, but it must be done to keep the list usable.”

It’s actually liberating to have under your eyes a list of things that need your attention (less than 25 items).

“In this system, having such a clear and accurate delineation of urgency greatly reduces workday anxiety by focusing your daily work much more appropriately.”

MASTER YOUR WORKDAY NOW CHAPTER 6- Mastering Your Urgency Zones

We’ve seen in Chapter 2 a quick overview of the Workday-Mastery-to-do-list. Just before in chapter 5, we saw how to use that system in detail. We will go even deeper in this chapter of Master your workday now.

Your now tasks include your critical now tasks (tasks urgently due today) and your opportunity now tasks (tasks due in a week or more).

The second page is your over-the-horizon tasks, “tasks that you keep only cursory awareness of by checking in on them only once a week.”

master your workday now

More about the Critical Now

This section is only for the tasks that are absolutely to be done today.  The lightweight system makes this section simple but incredibly powerful.

Your willpower is a finite resource so make an effort to complete these tasks as soon as possible. It is important to take a look at that list, if possible every two to three hours, even hourly.

To help you decide which tasks to include in this section, ask yourself: ““Would I work late tonight to complete this item if it is not finished by the normal end of the workday?” If the answer is no, move it to the “opportunity now section”.

You can create this list early in the day and manage it throughout the day. Do not abuse this critical now category and list out at most five items.

Sitraka’s note: You can also try another approach, creating a list the night before so that you already visualize the next day.

The Optional Target Now Urgency Zone

It’s an optional subsection of the “opportunity now” section. These are tasks on your “opportunity now list” that you are eager to finish today.”

Target now tasks” are essentially your Opportunity Now tasks which are the most important, and which could be the first to move into the Critical Now area.


delineating the optional target now urgency zone


More about the Opportunity Now

“Opportunity Now tasks are tasks that are not due today but that you would like to get to this week or next. “

“These are tasks that you work as the opportunity arises and time allows, and presumably after you have finished your Critical Now (and optional Target Now) tasks.”

Use the 20-item rule

In Master your workday now, the author makes it clear that your list shouldn’t exceed 20 items or so. To help you decide which items to keep and which ones to “toss over the now horizon”, you can either do, delete, delegate or postpone the task.

When you defer a task, Michael suggests two strategies: “defer to do” or “defer to review”.

“Defer-to-Do tasks are tasks that you defer to a specific day on which you really intend to do them. “

“Defer-to-Review tasks are tasks you merely want to put off for a while. You are doing this primarily because you have too much on your plate right now and want to get these out of sight”

Should you include deadlines?

To the author, the answer is yes and no. You can assign deadlines only when they are real deadlines, not artificial ones. Here’s the difference.

Have you seen some people who set their wristwatch ten minutes in advance? I used to do that and it works, but only for a few days because sooner or later, we mentally adjust to the real time and start being late again.

The same principle applies when you set an artificial due date on most tasks. If you keep using false due dates to try to trick your mind, you will start missing one, then two, then four, etc., and then you will get so used to it that you may miss tasks with a real due date. You’ll only trick yourself and skipping deadlines will create more stress and guilt.

Using Extended Review Cycles

Some items need to be reviewed every week. But some tasks require a different interval, maybe once every two months, every three months or more.

For example, you think about renewing your membership in a random club, which happens every semester. You will not need a weekly review for this but only when the right time comes.

The point is, you can use different intervals and consider having a reminder every 3 months, 6 months, 9 months or 12 months; but not weekly.

Why We Tend to Work on Low-Priority Tasks First

“Why does this happen, why do we pounce on low-priority tasks? Two reasons. One is emotion. We tend to internalize a need the moment it is presented to us and that spins up our emotions, often leading to unneeded action. The other reason is that we all have a need to complete some “quick hits” each day.” We tend to do tasks that are quick to complete because we like the sense of satisfaction that comes with completing a task.

In the next chapter, we’ll look at task management in more detail.

MASTER YOUR WORKDAY NOW CHAPTER 7 – Task Management at the Next Level

In this chapter, we’re going to discover more advanced strategies for working with tasks on a daily basis.

Before having an effective task management system, many people try to use their calendar to track and process their tasks. Sometimes they set time in their calendar to complete those tasks.

But it’s not the ideal approach as Michael Linenberger explains. We should use a single list for our tasks. A to-do-list is much more flexible than an agenda because we might overestimate how long a task will take.

An agenda is a great tool and we have to use it effectively. We should use it only for appointments and meetings but not for tasks.

Next Action tasks

It’s crucial to learn “the next action” concept because “it helps ensure that your tasks actually get done”

David Allen popularized the “what’s the next action” in his book Getting things done by David Allen

Concretely, you need to associate a physical action, a visible activity that will help you progress in a project. If you prepare a speech for example, maybe your next physical action is to choose a topic or to connect to the internet to make research on the topic.

As you create a to-do-list, always ask yourself “What is the very next physical action I need to do to accomplish this task?”

“The goal is to identify the most discrete and significant next action possible, and to write that down on the task list. This stimulates action more effectively and clears tasks that tend to remain uncompleted.”

So you should not use tasks with just generic nouns, such as “Samantha” or “Prepare speech”. You need to put a verb to highlight the concrete action to take.  In doing so, use “Meet Samantha at Ritz-Carlton at 04:30 pm” and “Prepare the next speech at Toastmasters”.  And keep the next action specific: don’t put tasks that are too large or too fuzzy in your list.

Ad Hoc Tasks vs. Operational Tasks

You shouldn’t include all sorts of tasks on your list. In Master your workday now, Michael highlights the difference between ad hoc and operational tasks. Ad hoc tasks are the tasks we have been talking about from the beginning, and operational tasks are repetitive tasks in your company’s operational environment, which are best managed in a specialized system.

If, for example, your job is to process hundreds of invoices a day, it is best not to put them on your task list.  For this type of repetitive, high-volume tasks, the system proposed by the author does not work: you have to use a specialized, automated system.

All Tasks in One Place

We’ve just seen what kinds of tasks not to include on your now tasks list. As you work on your list, it’s imperative to have one place for all tasks. Why?

“If you don’t have one place to look, you will have to spend time checking and reevaluating your various tracking systems (sticky notes, to-do lists, etc.)”

In addition to your list, do not use any separate paper to-do lists, yellow sticky notes on your computer monitor, journals, etc…

It’s always better to be able to know what is on your list for today at a glance.

Keeping Tasks Out of Your Head

“One more place you should not store tasks: your head! All good task management experts recommend getting out of the habit of trying to rely on your memory for tracking to-do’s.”

Never rely on your memory because it doesn’t have an innate intelligence. Your mind will trick you and you’ll forget what you intended to remember at the time you most need to recall it.

“If you adopt and maintain this approach—recording to-do’s immediately in one location as they come up, rather than holding them in your head or on multiple notes scattered about—you will be amazed at the sense of freedom it provides.”

It’s a habit you need to develop. Get everything written on your to-do-list (or any sorts of container such as a voice recorder etc…) as soon as they pop into your head.

Follow-Up Tasks and Delegation

Oftentimes, you need to follow up with a person who promised to accomplish a task before the deadline.

Michael Linenberger recommends creating a task on your list as a defer-to-do task, dated as appropriate for your follow-up date. You first need to set with the person what time suits her for a follow-up then put that date on your list.

“When you write down the task, put an “F:” (for “follow-up”) in front of the subject line and perhaps the name of the responsible person, for example, “F: Tom–Send me Planning Dept. file.”

Master your workday now: Significant Outcomes (SOCs)

We said that goals shouldn’t be put on your list. One question arises however: “how do you keep track of larger tasks that need to be broken down into smaller ones?”

The author calls these larger items the Significant Outcomes or SOCs.

“SOCs are not significant enough to be called goals— goals implies something beyond the task level”

“SOCs are just very large tasks, and as with most tasks, typically you focus on these when you have time and it feels right.”

These are larger items, bigger deliverables that you want to create.

The following picture highlights how to show Significant Outcomes, or “SOCs,” on your Workday Mastery To-Do List


SOCs added to the workday



Michael Linenberger coined the expression “in-box stress” which refers to that sinking feeling you have when you take a look at an overwhelmed in-box. But there’s good news: in-box-stress can be cured.

You will need to learn how to use email efficiently. It’s an essential ingredient to success in the modern work environment. Actually, email can distract us away from urgent and important work. It’s one of the main sources of interruption too. A solid body of research shows that it takes you at least 20 minutes to refocus on a task if you get interrupted. Unfortunately, emails interrupt us almost during the whole day. How many times a day do you check your inbox?

This is why the author recommends turning off your email notification and then check your email no more than once an hour.

“But beyond that, the real problem is not with reading email but rather with doing e-mail.”

“It is reacting to meaningful email; email with potential actions for us to do that makes us skid off track. It’s mail with actions that kills a huge chunk of our day.”

Oftentimes, we instantly deal with an email as we read them. The author suggests implementing a much more efficient way to prioritize the actions contained in emails.

Why we check email too often

Email addicted people are looking for one or more of the following three things:

  1. New bits of information to noodle on from friends, colleagues, or news sources;
  2. Small, quick requests they can effectively act on now (satisfying quick hits);
  3. Urgent issues that have recently come up that they may need to solve quickly.

The solution

“The number one best practice you can implement to solve this is to not act on most e-mail actions as they come in, but rather, create tasks in your task system stating the actions needed. Then empty your in-box by filing mail away—you can then work your tasks off your task list in priority order.”

In Master your workday now, Michael explains that the solution is not to act immediately after reading such emails, unless it’s urgent: instead, put the tasks in question in your to-do list, and continue to read or scan all the emails in your inbox, adding the actions to your list as you go along.

“However if the action needed in a new email is simply to write a long reply, rather than converting it to a task, simply flag such mail and respond to all flagged mail at the end of the day.”

“Also, try to convince your team or organization to avoid using e-mail for urgent notifications; use other methods instead—otherwise, you will be checking email way too often.”


You’ve learned so far how to handle urgent tasks so that you can relax and focus on more important work.

We saw how to create a flexible to-do-list that takes into account different urgency zones (critical now, opportunity now, over-the horizon)

Getting things done by David Allen was my first book about productivity until I discovered Michael Linenberger’s method.

The system shares a lot of principles with the GTD but it boils down to the essentials. You will for example find the same approach with “the next action” or the “weekly review”.

Linenberger’s approach however is more effective and lightweight.

I would say that the to-do-list format presented here has been the most useful I discovered so far. We don’t get lost looking for folders. I would simply write my tasks and fold the paper in my pocket, to review the list throughout the day.

The recommendations are practical and easy to implement.  Compared to David Allen, I found Michael Linenberger’s writing style easily digestible.

In short, this book was really helpful!