Every couple months I get a phone call that goes something like this, “Did you get the email I sent you?” I respond by saying, “I don’t think so. When did you send it?” The sender responds by saying, “Just now.”
And with that statement, they reveal themselves. They are of the unfortunate breed of lost souls that live in their email inbox. They’re subject to other people’s priorities, and other people whims. They don’t likely get their most important work done each day because living in the inbox means responding in real time.
Here is how to stop living in your inbox for good.
Caution: This takes unimaginable courage, extreme self-discipline, and the willingness to make other people’s priorities play second fiddle to what’s really important.
Do Your Most Important Work Before You Open Your Email
Don’t open your inbox in the morning. I mean it; don’t even launch the program.
I don’t open my email until I’ve done my most important work each morning. That likely means that I’ve written this blog post before I even know what’s waiting for me. It also means I’ve done some client-related work too.
By keeping my email program closed, no matter what shows up in that inbox it’s not going to derail my day, because by the time I see it, I am hours and hours into my most important work. When I do see it, my most important work will have already been done. BOOM!
Schedule Time to Check Your Email
Schedule time to review your email and use effective tools.
I’m using Sanebox to sort my email. It used to be when I opened my inbox I would be greeted by something near 100 messages. After setting up the Sanebox filters, I’m greeted by about 20 email messages. The rest of the email messages have found their way into a Bulk email folder (completely unimportant), a Newsletter folder (I wish I had time to read these), or a Later folder (okay to process later).
Even though I’ve eliminated a lot of my email, I still have to deal with the important email messages. So I try to check my email at ten o’clock in the morning and again later in the afternoon. I also check it at night.
I keep the inbox completely closed. I have no notifications set up to inform me that I received an email. And I’ll leave email closed for hours on end.
One of the other ways that I process a lot of email is to check my email while I’m waiting for something else to happen. For instance if I’m in between calls and have some time, I’ll pop open the iPhone or the iPad and processes as much trivial email as I can. I try to blast through anything that doesn’t really require my attention.
Process Your Email in One or Two Sittings
Checking your email is different than processing your email. Some of your email requires a thoughtful response. Some email might only take two minutes to reply to. Some needs archived. And much just needs deleted.
I move the email that requires a real response into Omnifocus, my task manager, so I can schedule time to respond to those emails in a meaningful way. When I’m processing the email, I process the email. I reply to every email that requires a real response.
I try to do this in one sitting a day. But it almost always takes two. On Sundays, when I send y newsletter, it takes five.
Train the People in Your Life
You have to train the people in your life that you don’t live in your inbox.
I’ve spent time training the people in my life that I don’t live in my email. You let them know that if they send an urgent email that it’s unlikely that you will receive it in a time that meets their needs. If something needs your serious attention, the best way for anyone to get a hold of you is to use the telephone.
I never turn my telephone off. It is right next to me, even when I am sleeping. And, I’ll bet you never turn your phone off either.
By letting people know that you might take some time to respond, you train them not to expect you to be always on, at the ready, living to type the next email message. But most importantly, you’ll get a lot more work done.
Do you live in your inbox? (You can be honest here; we’re all friends)
Can you get up in the morning without opening your inbox first thing? How much work could you get done if you waited until 10:00 AM to check your inbox?
Can you limit the times you check email, making sure you are available for important client communication, but not so available it derails your day?
How long would it take you to process your email, to clear it out and respond to the important email messages?
Who in your life needs trained to wait for a response? Who believe you should live in your inbox?