When I am not coaching, I am emailing. People write in for hints and tips and tricks and advice and resources and ideas and help and support and… well, whatever they like really, and I encourage it. I love it! I am a very fast typist, good at thinking with my fingertips and it’s a good way to keep in touch with clients between calls, answer all those questions and for us both to be in dialogue and feel connected.
At the time of writing, it is 17.46 and today I have one unanswered email in my inbox right now. It needs some work from me, some thinking time, jotting down some notes and formulating a decent reply. I will do that tonight before bedtime and I have acknowledged that to my client so she knows it’s on my To Do list. She’s chilled.
I have 120+ emails in Deleted today and 60+ in Sent which means I have replied to only about 50% of them and deleted the rest of them with impunity and with nary a backward glance. I may have taken on board some information therein, but they did not require a reply from me or they were spam or irrelevant or some such. I try very hard not to get sucked into other people’s agendas where they just send emails fishing to see if I have time to play meaningless email chit chat today. I don’t. I might in my leisure time, but I wouldn’t bank on it.
Of the sixty emails I have sent so far today, I had email correspondence (i.e. more than one) with ten clients, two friends, four business contacts, one colleague and one where I had to manually ask to be removed from a list for the second time. Don’t start me.
My goal is always to have an empty inbox by bedtime. I use my inbox like we used to use an in-tray in the “olden” days. If there’s something in my inbox, I process it today, a trick taught to me by Mark Forster way back; if you cannot process all of the emails in your inbox in one day and incoming requests, you have more work than one person can do. Mark’s advice was to ring-fence a whole day’s work for one entire day (do nothing today on that day) and then do it all tomorrow. And repeat, Mondays to Fridays. That way you will know if you can do one day’s work within one business day. That’s all we can do, when you come to think of it?
Today I had a clear afternoon, i.e. no coaching calls. This amount of work would have been much harder to complete within one day if I had had to do it this evening, at the end of a business day, but not impossible; I am one determined bird. I would also have had to have been even more efficient because I wouldn’t have had the luxury of time to entertain at least one lengthy correspondence. I would have had to reply instead “let’s discuss this on your next call”. Indeed sometimes I do that anyway, reply saying “can you Skype me quickly pls” as some things take MUCH longer to explain in email than a few words verbally. But mostly I stick to email.
[I have this vain hope that if I write my instructions and information down, as t’were, there can be no misunderstandings. If only that were true!]
Anyway, here are some rules I live by when it comes to email management. I hope they help.
- Unsubscribe from everything you do not have time to read today. Try Unroll.me if this is your problem. I have seen pals on Facebook reporting that they have unsubscribed from 267 newsletters they were not reading. I kid you not.
- Choose to follow in another way, perhaps via Feedly (which I love) or try watching them on social media instead. Thus I can catch up and read anything I choose to on my iPad from my bed or armchair, in rest and repose, rather than sitting up at my desk. Feels different. Feels better. Feels nicer.
- Scan/Delete everything. Scan every email asking “is there anything in here for me?” If there is, and it’s quick, reply now and delete the incoming. If not, delete anyway. Do not handle anything more than once. Get rid.
- Give up trying to be all over every piece of information which has ever been generated in the ether. Simply not possible. Pointless goal which is just going to continue to make you feel hopeless and worthless.
- Err on the side of Delete. Anything important comes back. Fact.
- Create rules in your email client (that’s what people call them, no idea why). I mean Outlook. Or Gmail. Or whatever you use for your emails incoming and outgoing. Ask Google how to set up a rule in your email. And organise for certain sorts of emails you intend to read later (don’t make me laugh) to go into folders.
- When you have 267 emails unread in that folder. Delete the lot. Anything important comes back, remember?
- More information isn’t better. It’s worse. Let it go. See Unsubscribing is a State of Mind.
- Do emails in chunks. They say you shouldn’t do them before you start work, focusing instead on something you want to achieve. I would dearly love to do emails in (say) 60 minutes at the end of the day and do a whole day’s worth in that one window. I am making that a goal here and now. You probably wouldn’t need that much time. How about it?
- My final one is this. Be pithy. I don’t have hours to customise the replies to you, I often don’t have time to even say Dear Mary. I just go straight in with the info you need and I sign it these days with an x. I don’t even put my name or anything. Bang. Job done. Not as elegantly as I would like if I were only processing 20 emails a day but they have what they need and I have a life.
If you have hundreds of emails in your inbox or in folders you have already set up using rules, you are never going to have time to read them. Simply delete the lot. Your life is worth more than this.
This is a very useful question I ask myself a lot when doing almost any task including watching TV or reading a book: is my life worth more than this? And “life” in that instance could mean staring into space, sitting quietly listening to my meditation bell, stroking the cat, just being, living in the moment, noticing the moment, breathing in and out.
Is my life worth more than meaningless unimportant emails and unread marketing material? You bet your life!
What’s yours worth?