As an introvert, email is usually my preferred method of communication. I can think before I respond and the record of the discussion can be retrieved later. However, I do think we all may be a little too accessible by email. It is easy to find and reach out to just about anyone. I find it impossible to keep up most of the time. It never seems to end.
Merlin Mann gave a great Google Tech Talk back in 2007 called Inbox Zero which has been very helpful for me as I try to control my email and not be controlled by it. I have watched this talk a few times now. Mann states that “time & attention are finite.” I know this all too well. I know I have more emails than I can fully answer. I know when my inbox gets full I can get overwhelmed. Mann says “don’t live in your inbox.” I have lived in my inbox plenty in the past and know that for me, scrolling through multiple emails to look for important items doesn’t work. Things get missed this way. Mann talks about how we need to turn each email into an action and there are only five: Delete, Delegate, Respond, Defer, Do.
Here’s how I have applied this:
Delete – Is this junk? Am I obligated to respond? Will I ever need to reference this again? Is the answer no, no, and no, then I delete.
Delegate – Is this something someone else could or should do?
Respond – Do I need more information? I will be honest, sometimes I ask for more information to buy time. Maybe I am going to work on something, but can’t yet, so I find at least acknowledging the receipt of the email helps the sender know I got it. I also try to give them realistic time frames so they don’t have to send me another email to bug me.
Defer – Is this something you need to do, but can’t do immediately? Move to a “To do” folder and make a plan for when you will do it, maybe in an hour or next week or whenever.
Do – Is this something you can or should do right now? Can it be done quickly or is it so urgent an immediate response is required? Then do it now.
Mann says to take your inbox to ZERO every time you are in your email. The last time I watched the video I honed in on this statement and realized this would be the key – EVERY TIME! I am still not perfect, but I have been getting better at this and when I do, I find that I am more in control. I also don’t miss the urgent and important with all of the junk that might surround it.
Mann also suggested to not check your email every minute of the day, but rather set aside specific times to check regularly throughout the day. If you are checking email all of the time, think of all of the interruptions you have all through the day. I am working on this one, but in order to achieve it I need to change the culture and expectations of those around me.
Keeping your inbox clear helps keep your mind focused on what’s important.