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“I don’t believe in email. I’m an old-fashioned girl. I prefer calling and hanging up.” (Sarah Jessica Parker)
Inbox v1 cats1 Are you a slave to your inbox?

Imagine coming to work with a fairly well-thought out plan of what you want to achieve during the day. Hopefully you have followed Leo Babauta’s principle of setting the days MIT (Most Important Task) and are eager to get to work on them. Anyway, you start your computer and out-of-habit, check your emails. Bad idea. A dozen or so are already waiting for you, half of them labelled “urgent”. You start answering them in a hurry, after all, most of them probably have to do with houses on fire, tornadoes and other things that simply cannot wait. As you write, more emails arrive, including some follow-ups to your original replies, like a dam that springs a new leak every time you plug one with your thumb. Later, having finally hacked through the jungle of your inbox, you see it’s already time for lunch. And your MITs? Well, they are still untouched, but hey, they weren’t that important, just your Most Important… oh crap.

Why does this happen to 95% of people? Because for some reason the concept of the email has been fundamentally misunderstood in the past decade. Emails are an easy way to communicate non-urgent information. If something is truly urgent, we pick up the phone. Thus by definition, if something arrives by email, it is totally ok to answer it within 1-2 days instead of 1-2 hours. Remember, emails were originally actually meant to ENHANCE productivity, not undermine it.

In order to tame your inbox, you need only take a few simple steps:

  1. Make sure your email program is NOT running constantly in the background. This means you can choose when to check your inbox, instead of your emails jumping at you all the time demanding attention like screaming infants.
  2. Start checking your inbox only twice a day: once before lunch and once before you leave for the office. This demands discipline but will leave your mornings free for important tasks and still allow you to have an arguably fast response time if needed. One of the best ways to do this is to make calendar appointments with yourself to check emails, half an hour before lunch and another half-hour before going home.
  3. Keep your emails short. Up to now, no one has won any literary awards for the outstanding prose they use in their emails, and there is no need for you to strive for Shakespearean turns of phrase. In 90% of cases, a 5 sentence maximum will serve you well and save you a lot of time. Wanting to leave for lunch or go home should serve as incentives to answer your emails concisely and quickly. If you are using more than an hour per day reading or replying to emails, you are well over the limit.
  4. If you can think of people who will really have a problem with your new arrangement, let them know that you are doing this in the interest of productivity which will conversely help you do more for them. Also, be sure to let them know that if they really have something urgent to discuss, they should call you, like people used to in the 80s when they wanted to discuss e.g. spandex or Genesis.
  5. Tell as many people as possible about your new system. Hopefully these people will torment you should they catch you writing emails at non-approved times.

Inbox v11 Are you a slave to your inbox?

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