Has It Ever Been Clean?
I am surprised that we haven’t seen support groups created for those of us that have succumbed to the growing epidemic I like to call “emailaggedon.” You know who you are. While standing in the take out line you are embarrassed by how many times your phone has beeped. You have your head down checking the ever growing list as you wait at the curb to pick up your kids. You keep hoping you can multi-task with a bit of exercise and email processing on the walking path, but I am telling you now, next time you trip I am not helping you. The tool that was supposed to revolutionize work, improve productivity and increase capacity has actually spun us out so badly that some of you are drowning in your own creation. Is it possible to get back to the basics, using it as it was intended or is our only salvation to melt down and find our support group?
I went back and forth with my decision to write this blog post. I mean, there are articles, books, podcasts, top 10 lists and courses all designed to teach us how to use email the right way. They all say the same thing, yet we still have a growing epidemic of email abusers. You know who you are. You “invite” people to write you, asking them to email you. You tell them you are easily accessible, but in truth, you are not. You are a liar and don’t even know it. There is a better way and I am going to show you how.
First you need to understand that the email system in and of itself is not functional. Thinking that by itself it works efficiently and effectively is a joke. Really, it is a horrible tragedy, but we will keep it light for a Tuesday. To begin with, you need to understand that the email system has three functions; intake, holding and funneling. You need three support systems for these three functions to work.
As far as I am concerned, clean is a better word than empty, because empty is neither realistic nor necessarily right. Your email inbox should act as a channel that receives, holds, and funnels. So having it be empty is not your goal. Your goal is to create an inbox system that reflects work and communication coming in, being processed and going out. Think of your inbox as a mini post office. Mail comes in, someone processes it and then it goes back out. The hardest part is that you are accountable for all of this. Even those that I have seen give accountability to a trusted assistant still need these systems for it to function. Otherwise we just have, in a manner of speaking, another hand in the cooking pot, not knowing what to take out and/or leave in. Let’s break it down.
Intake: You get email, lots of it and that is what has started this issue. If you are one of those who uses your email address for communications(and you better be if you are doing business these days) then you need a few intake systems. To start with, look from the perspective of your brand. What is your brand and how quickly should your system funnel? Everyone needs to have a declaration around timing. Your constituents need to know when they should expect to hear from you. Mine is 24 business hours. At times I tell people this, at others they experience it through my response time. Either way, I have declared it. This helps me establish a few perspectives on my Intake. I check email four times a day. Don’t get me wrong, I look at it all day long, but I don’t check it and get into processing it until my designated times. This creates a dependable system that ensures I get it processed timely and efficiently. Thinking you are going to process, remember and stay efficient checking email all day long is a joke and what got you into your original mess. Also, checking email all day long is keeping you from the real things in life, the important things.
Processing: Once the process of checking begins, the processing system begins. So, why do you leave some email in the inbox? Why do you delete some? Do you organize it in folders? Your inbox is not a storage system in and of itself. The days of seeing 3000 emails in your inbox are over(or you are in even a deeper mess). As you are the post master over your own individual postal facility, imagine yourself moving mail to the mail truck, PO boxes, “return to sender” boxes, or trash cans.
Funneling: I use three systems; 1) inbox folders organized by project, client or activity (this includes an archive folder—because even I like to hold on to useless emails), 2) respond, or 3) a good ‘ol fashioned to do list. My inbox does not serve as the “to do” list that I find so many people use it for. If you need to do something based on what an email is asking, put it on your to do list and delete or file the email away. If the email needs a response, respond and file away or delete. If you need to create yourself a reminder for when to follow up on an email you respond to, create a reminder. Do not use your inbox as a storage function, or reminder and holding tank for these tasks that need their own system.
This is something that can happen over night. It doesn’t need a lot of time to prepare, just the implementation of a few simple systems. Then it is maintaining it. Just like your diet, it will take time to build a new habit, break the old and stay committed. Yet, the more you do, the less a bad day affects you and before you know it you are wearing those pants from your college days.