I guarantee 100% that, if you follow the advice in this post, your email misery will be gone for ever.

This is the second in a two-part series about email.  Part 1, looked at what email is, what it is supposed to be, why it is broken and how this affects me.  Now, in Part 2, I’m going to tell you how to survive the email overload and prevent ‘death by email’.  This is based on the highly commended seminar and workshop “Life After Email”.

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Fourteen days of email rehab!

The overwhelming reaction to Death by Email (part 1) shows this really is a huge problem.  Thanks for the comments and for the emails, articles and suggestions you sent.

Too many people are chained to their inboxes that are open all day: on desks and in pockets, with nagging pop-ups, reminders, pings and beeps.

Hundreds of emails a day is thousands of interruptions a week.  Dipping in and out and quickly scanning mail, not only disrupts work and concentration but still leaves hundreds, thousands, even tens-of-thousands of messages ‘touched’ then left for later and ultimately forgotten.

Death by Email

Dipping in and out and quickly scanning mail, not only disrupts work and concentration but still leaves hundreds, thousands, even tens-of-thousands of messages ‘touched’ then left for later and ultimately forgotten (photo credit: www.lifebuilding.nl)

Time is not only disrupted, but also wasted, as you scroll to remember: what you need to do, when you need to do it, who you need to do it with, all drowning amongst advertising, newsgroups, socialising, ‘CYA’ (covering your ass with CC, BCC and reply-to-all) and spam.

Since Part 1, the cliché “Practice What you Preach” has been troubling me.  I have lectured many times and run workshops on surviving the email overload.  However, as I wrote Part 1, I still had nearly thirteen-thousand emails in my inboxes, with thousands unread.  All the while, notifications flashed on my computer and phone every few minutes, luring away my focus and attention.

I guarantee 100% that, if you follow the advice in this post, your email misery will be gone for ever.

So, for Part 2, I have taken the plunge … what follows is inspired by “Inbox Zero”, which was cooked up by Merlin Mann.  Now it is tried and tested and I guarantee 100% that, if you follow the advice in this post, your email misery will be gone for ever.

in box Zero

I have taken the plunge … what follows is inspired by “Inbox Zero”, which was cooked up by Merlin Mann. Now it is tried and tested and I guarantee 100% that, if you follow the advice in this post, your email misery will be gone for ever (photo credit: www.zenhabits.net).

Jon’s Four Stage Plan to Living in Harmony with Email

Stage 1 – “Breathe”

When you are drowning in email.  You have to get your head above the water. First, create a new folder in your email system called “DO”.  Select the fifteen most urgent emails from your inbox.  Only fifteen and only the ones that you really need to deal with.  Move these fifteen messages to the new “DO” folder.

Head above water

When you are drowning in email. You have to get your head above the water. (photo credit: www.kootation.com)

Secondly, create another new folder called “DROWNING”.  Move everything else from your inbox into that.  Yes everything.  And, while you move them mark them all as ‘read’.

Wow … I did this.  All 12,724 emails and when I did this, I had an empty inbox for the first time in twenty-years!

BREATHE!!

Stage 2 – “Discipline”

Remember email is mail and mail is asynchronous.  Mail does not constantly disturb you, distracting you from your tasks and diverting your focus.  The postman does not follow you around all day, tapping you on the shoulder each time you have a new letter.  Mail does not demand that you are present to receive it and it does not require immediate attention.

Postman

The postman does not follow you around all day, tapping you on the shoulder each time you have a new letter (photo credit: Entertainment Rights’ . Photograph: BBC)

The only reason email is distracting is that we give it permission.  Piotr Wozniakt explains that email feeds on a human weakness: the need for instant gratification. There used to be a substantial evolutionary benefit in encoding impatience, and compulsiveness in the human brain; we all like to get instant results.  But with email it is your choice; you do not have to wake up in the middle of the night or interrupt the family dinner.  You can set the schedule.

So, set a schedule and stick to it.  If you are deciding when to deal with email, you no longer need email to nudge you when it’s sitting there.  Turn off all email notifications, reminders, messages, bings and vibrations.  Decide what works for you and stick to it.  I went cold-turkey on one day and decided to deal with my email once every two-hours for a maximum of ten minutes.  I scheduled the sessions in my calendar and stuck with it; except for a few weak moments of failure.  I’ve heard of many different schedules: twice per day for 30-minutes; every hour; one woman only checks email after she goes to pee!

Green calendar icon isolated on white

Set a schedule and stick to it. I went cold-turkey on one day and decided to deal with my email once every two-hours for a maximum of ten minutes (photo credit: www.greencyclists.org)

By splitting your time between uninterrupted work (or play) and uninterrupted email time, you will immediately see improvements in your efficiency.

Stage 3 – “Processing”

Now that you are breathing with a clear inbox and you are energised by uninterrupted periods of work, rest and play: it’s time to deal with your email.  Stick to your schedule, and for 10-minutes work on email.

There is one overriding rule: Never leave an email in the inbox.  After each session with email, you must be back to Inbox Zero.  You must do one of the following four actions on each email in the inbox: I call them “the four D’s” (photo credit: adapted from www.luckyspin.org):

  • Delete – This is the best one.  The main objective is to delete as much as possible.  This is the most effective action, the quickest and the one to guarantee a smile each time (some people archive all their old emails and in this case please pretend that Archive begins with a D).
  • Delegate – If you cannot delete and email, then delegate it.  Forward it with a brief cover note to the delegate and file in the Defer folder (see next) to check up on later.
  • Defer – sometimes you cannot deal with an email immediately.  If you’re waiting for information, need more time, etc. then you have to Defer the email to a later time.  Move it into a folder entitled “Defer” and add to the task to your calendar or to-do list.
  • Do – finally, if you cannot delete the email, nor push it off to someone else and if you must deal with it immediately, then you should tackle it.
4ds

Inbox Zero. You must do one of the following four action on each email in the inbox: I call them “the four D’s” (photo credit: adapted from www.luckyspin.org)

Once again, be disciplined.  Try to limit your time to 20-seconds per email.  Keep your answers short. Adopt the ‘Sentences’ strategy of setting a personal policy whereby all email responses, regardless of recipient or subject, will be four sentences or less.

Whatever you do, never work beyond your allotted email time.  If you do still have some email time remaining once your inbox is empty, then start working on the fifteen emails in the ‘Do’ folder you set up earlier.  When they are cleared, you can tackle some of the old emails in the ‘Drowning’ folder.  You probably won’t … in the two weeks since I started breathing, I’ve never been there.

I can already feel the rumblings as you read this.  The lawyers that use email to draft well thought-out ideas, collated with appropriate attachments, etc.  I agree … but these types of email need to be considered part of the ongoing work and not part of your hourly email minutes.

Stage 4 – “Killing the crap”

So far, you have drained the email swamp, got your head above water and started to breathe.     Secondly, you have established a routine to put yourself in control of your email.  Finally, you have disciplined your self to deal with all email actively with one of the four ‘D’s’.

reply to all

The last stage is to reduce the number of emails you receive (photo credit: adapted from (www.thecouchmanager.com)

Now, the last stage is to reduce the number of emails you receive.  Today, effective Spam filters already remove 90% of the junk that we do not want, the rest we have brought on ourselves.  Here are the three simple steps to follow:

  • Unsubscribe: Start by unsubscribing from everything.  Newsletters you never read, Google Alerts that you ignore, Linked In group updates, advertising you did not want and more.  All the stuff that floods into your inbox day after day, can be easily found on the internet.  So, when you have time or when you have the need, go and look for it there.
  • Talk: Yes I realise that speaking to people is old fashioned, but a lot can be achieved with a quick phone call, SMS, instant message, FaceTime, WhatsApp, Skype session, etc. and you will find that hundreds of emails will never even be born.
  • Ban CC: For a long time I thought I was the only mad-man advocating an email tax.  I envisaged a small fee for every additional named recipient.  In effect, taxing the dreaded CC, BCC and ‘reply to all’ as an incentive to leave most of them off.  And then I read about Berkeley city councilman, Gordon Wozniak proposing that the US government tax email. Could it happen?  Who knows, but from today, let’s pretend that it does.  Put 1 cent into a jar for every CC and BCC name on your emails.
jar_change

For a long time I thought I was the only mad-man advocating an email tax. Let’s pretend that it does exist. Put 1 cent into a jar for every CC and BCC name on your emails (photo credit: www.lostgirlsworld.com)

The less email you send the less you will receive.  A true win-win for everyone.

So, I took the plunge and for fourteen days I really have been liberated from the drudgery of email.  Why don’t you give it a go.  Don’t forget, I guarantee 100% that, if you follow the advice in this post, your email misery will be gone for ever.  If you or your company need any help, get in touch about my highly commended seminar and workshop “Life After Email”.

Let me know how you get on.