Removing Email Drag in 4 Simple Steps

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Do you wake up in the morning, check your phone (first mistake), then feel your energy tank as you see the number of new unread messages? Looks like it will be another double-cappuccino morning starter.

A few months ago I hired a coach to help me improve my personal effectiveness and we began with a focus on time. I’m highly organized, using many classic time management techniques that keep leaders ‘on task’. But it was not enough. I was unable to complete tasks I had enough time to do. I knew I could do more.

Every morning I would wake up to find another 50+ emails waiting to consume the best and brightest moments of my day. Before I could begin, the sight of so many unread messages put a big dent in my energy level. Ignoring it didn’t work – I could feel it waiting for my attention. On top of that, I had a ‘base level’ of email in my inbox that I never seemed to get to.

It was a heavy weight holding me back. To achieve more I had to start with that problem. And so began a ruthless focus on reducing email. In 3 weeks I made such an improvement that my unreads are now normally less than 10 in the morning. I wake up much more energy and have substantially increased my ability get stuff done. You can, too!

Here is what I did:

1. Visualize lightness.

How will you feel waking up to an inbox with less than 10 unread items in it? How much extra energy will you have when you see an inbox with less than 30 items overall? Less than 20?

Waking up knowing I can invest more of my best hours in real work was a strong motivator, enabling me to develop a sense of accomplishment early in the day that would lock in a positive mindset for the rest of the day. A self-reinforcing cycle proven to stimulate higher levels of performance and achievement. Let that spur you on to action.

I was so motivated by that vision that I made immediate. Onwards to Step 2…

2. Unsubscribe ruthlessly.

Sorting my inbox by ‘from’, I looked at the clusters of newsletters, alerts and information items that were waiting to be read from sources I had subscribed to. Some were more than a year old! Most news is irrelevant after a week. Burn it!

I unsubscribed to 99% and then deleted all of them.

Each morning I receive more newsletters. If my chances of getting anything useful from the email is close to zero, I unsubscribe. Within 3 weeks I had unsubscribed to more than 70 and recovered a minimum of 1 hour every day spent wasting time sorting through irrelevant or unhelpful information.

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3. Dump the old stuff.

In her book Thoughtfully Ruthless, Val Wright urges us to consider deleting the entire mailbox after vacations or during cleanup time. If it’s important it will come again. She’s right!

If you’re not ready for that level of radical, delete anything more than 6 months old. Don’t worry that you will be seen as rude since:

  • You already missed the boat – rudeness was assessed by the sender 48 hours after the email was sent
  • The note is no longer relevant anyway – why bother?

Trash the oldies, and don’t you dare send any ‘sorry I didn’t respond’ notes! Then take a critical look at items more than 30 days old. They probably should share the same fate. On my first pass I took my inbox from 200 items to 30. I could feel energy returning!

4. Respond or delete.

To keep your inbox in check, apply a few simple disciplines:

  • Only answer email at designated times, and limit that time. Be fast and factual.
  • If you read it, deal with it. This avoids having to read it again later.
  • Do not respond to emails that don’t require a response.
  • Respond to every email within 24 hours or question whether you should respond at all. Delete accordingly.

Manners matter. This does not mean you shouldn’t be cheerful and friendly with your emails. Just be focused on the task at hand to ensure you are conserving time and energy for the stuff that matters most.

Some days we can’t get our email done. We fall behind. But, it’s much easier to get it back to a reasonable level from 40 items than it is from 400. The goal is closer and we work harder and smarter to get there.

Each morning I wake to 10 or less new emails and I deal with them FAST. Or I leave them until my 10am break. That leaves a boat load of energy for the good stuff.

Feeling lighter yet? Do it now!

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