It’s been over 1,000 days since I realized that my relationship with email had to change. Not only was my inbox making me miserable, it was consuming my life.
What follows is a summary of how I spent three years changing my workflow and improving my life.
#1 – Reduce the fire hose of inbound flow by:
- Using inbox-zero techniques
- Making your default reply not more than two words long. For example, “got it” or “ok” work well. What works even better is my preferred response – “can I delete this message now.” Delete, delete, delete, delete, delete
- If you’re in management at company that doesn’t use a threaded email client then you should be fired. If you don’t know what I’m talking about then switch yourself, and your company, to gmail.
- Let others reply for you – wait a day before you dive into mass email threads.
- Unsubscribe as much as possible – if it’s important then you’ll track it down. Once you unsubscribe to everything, you’ll realized that most of the internet is waste and noise.
Recognize that your subconscious mind is terrified of being out of the loop!
Until you remove it, you won’t see how the noise in your life is ruining your capacity for effective thought AND making you miserable.
If you can’t see it in yourself then look around. Most people are not informed – they are filled with useless, and ever changing, noise.
If you find that describes everyone around you then what makes you think you’re different? This was a powerful, and painful, realization for me. Email, social networks and constant connectivity were making me miserable AND clueless.
Once you’ve created the space to think…
2 – Improve your ability to retain information by:
- Take one slow breath (in and out) before reading any email that you can’t delete, or unsubscribe.
- Take two slow breaths before any reply that will extend beyond one line – you’ll find your composition is better.
- Give the sender what they need and no more.
- Take one slow breath and re-read every reply before you send it. You’ll be amazed at the number of type-os you catch.
- Take an honest inventory of your productivity across an entire week. At best, you’ll be productive for three hours per day (broken up into 2-4 segments). Once you realize that you’re spinning your wheels go for a walk.
If you think the above sounds hokey then pay attention to how much you hold your breath when working, driving and waiting in line.
Walking is useful to consider, and compose, your best work.
3 – When you must do your best work:
- Exercise early
- Eat a healthy meal
- Wear earplugs
- Close the door
- Shut the internet browser
- Write it out by hand
- Review when you transcribe it into your computer
A – reduce the fire hose of inbound to create space for thoughts that matter and reduce the misery you’re experiencing with email
B – stop holding your breath and triggering irritation with your current habits
C – with a less cluttered mind, create a routine for producing high-quality work
The above will make you FAR more happy with your work life and this will make you a better employee, spouse, parent and person.
Living behind a screen, and the back-and-forth nature of email, reinforces habits of inefficiency. Once you start to increase your own free time, be proactive about not wasting other people’s time.
- Schedule a telephone call for any email that will require more than three replies
- When you set a call, specify two choices and a preference
- In advance, send a written agenda
- Take notes
- Write (or review) a summary of the call
What I tell myself:
- It’s incredibly hard to say no and reduce the background noise in our lives.
- Keep chipping away.
- Change is difficult but worth it.
Start to pay attention how your current work habits are making you feel.
Even if you are the only person that changes, it’s still worth it.
Be grateful that you had the courage to change!