Sarah Green writes:
If you feel sucked into a bottomless guilt vortex every time you look at your email inbox, this post is not for you. If you struggle to keep up with a deluge of 50, 100, 400 emails every day, go away. If you’ve clicked on this looking for tips in curtailing this incursion of correspondence, leave now.
This post isn’t for you. It’s for the other guy. The one who responds immediately to every message. The one who sleeps with his smartphone. The one who checks email on vacation.
You know who you are. And while this may be hard for you to hear, it needs to be said: you’re ruining everything for the rest of us.
Every time you check your email while on vacation you make it just a little bit harder for me not to. Every time you fire off an email at 11pm, you make a capillary explode in one of my eyeballs. Every time you send me an email asking, “Did you get my email?” — especially if you sent said email within the last 24 hours — I drown a kitten in a bag.
Okay, that’s not true. No animals were harmed in the writing of this post. Except for this particular human animal, who has gotten to a point with her email where she just. Can’t. Take it. Any. More.
Sisyphus had a better chance of keeping that boulder on top of that hill than I do of keeping on top of my email.
I have tried the check-email-only-thrice-per-day strategy. (If I respond to all the emails I get three times/day, I end up doing nothing but answer email all day.) So I tried using a time limit, which meant I barely answered anything. I then tried the “answer or file” rule — anything you can answer in under five minutes, answer, and everything else gets flagged for later. This meant I answered all the easy (eg, unimportant) questions, and never had time left for the ones that required more thought or research. I’ve even tried a strategy of (as far as I know) my own devising: designating Friday afternoons “apology” time, as in: “Hi there, I’m so sorry I haven’t been able to respond to your email yet. I will hopefully have more time next week!” The problem? This is a baldfaced lie. I will never, never, never have more time for email, next week or any other week, no matter how much false hope I harbor. Also, I think there are better ways for me to spend 3 hours out of a (purportedly) 40-hour work week.
As our inboxes have become more demanding, we have all become less responsive — because we get so many messages it’s hard to keep up. But the harder it is to keep up, the more messages (“I just thought I’d send another email asking if you got my first two emails”) we send. And the more messages we send, the more we value people who demonstrate “responsiveness.” It’s a vicious cycle that’s now spun out of control, to the point where we now value “responsiveness” so much, it’s crowded out our ability to actually respond. We have chosen to spend our time saying, “I’ll look into it,” at the cost of being able to say, “The analysis you asked for is attached.”
Sarah has an interesting perspective, however, I think she misses an important point; email is much easier to handle if you have a purpose and a plan for your inbox. Purpose? Plan? Inbox? Exactly.
Here are my recommendations for getting a grip on email:
- Use your inbox for ‘just in time’ information – information that affects relationships or revenue – and get ‘just in case’ info like newsletters out of your inbox permanently!
- Use Google Reader for ‘just in case’ info.
- Ditch Outlook. It’s a memory hog and it’s inefficient. Use Gmail or Google Apps in Chrome instead [btw, this will work for anyone except those whose companies use Microsoft Exchange or Lotus Notes. Sorry. Sux2beu! :-D]. You can learn more about what I think the killer features of Gmail are by registering for my ebook here or attending today’s Google+ Hangout…
Steps 1 and 2 will relieve the pressure on your inbox immediately – step 3 will take a load off your computer. Comment or connect if you’d like to know more…