How to stop getting crazy-overwhelmed by trying to perfectly-manage your overflowing inbox.
This has only been a recent discovery for me, but by jaysus was it a wonderful one! I may sound dramatic, but I genuinely feel like a new woman, and I can't wait for you to enjoy this same buzz!
Man, how I've changed. Getting buzzed by a new email management skill.
This discovery came about from me consciously taking time out of my week to think about my beautifully imperfect week; what mistakes I'd made, which was my best one, and what valuable lesson I took away from it. This week was me trying to manage my uncontrollable email in the exact same way as I always had done, and expecting a different outcome. Dur.
Now I don't know about you, but before this email-purge-revelation I'm about to share, my crazy perfectionist approach to managing my email, (across no less than four busy email inboxes), was to keep a gazillion, un-tackled mails marked as 'Unread'.
The method to my madness was that if I marked them as unread, then they wouldn't be forgotten, they'd stay important and remain highlighted until I tackled them. It gave them a pointless semi-urgent status. And in theory, this made perfect sense, and perhaps some mails were admittedly appropriately marked as unread. But in practice, this meant 400+ emails left hanging. Completely unmanageable.
Y'see I tried to manage my email communications so perfectly, I ended up ceasing to manage them at all. Now I'm here so you don't have to do that.
So what's the revelation?
If you manage your emails similarly to me, mark all those emails as read. Yuh-huh. Read. Like a rebel. Now let me elaborate before we have a perfectionist-palpitation at my ruthlessness. There's method to this approach. Firstly, there are mails that are legitimately allowed to be marked as unread, for a temporary amount of time. These are;
- Mails of purchases/receipts/bills that need to be printed for accounts on a periodical basis. You can't be printing receipts all day every day just to keep a clean inbox.
- Mails of reference/research/project material for easy access.
But it's so super-important that these are only left as unread for a short period of time. I personally print out all my purchasing receipts on a Monday morning to give my inboxes a clean start to the week. And if a particular mail contains links to some valid content for a project, at set intervals (12 noon Mon-Wed to be exact!), I store them within the appropriate project or client folders on my laptop. My inbox is not their home. I then respond to all request-type, actionable emails (new orders, new quote requests, client/supplier queries and so on) at set intervals too. Three times a day. That way there's no excuse or opportunity for an inbox clog.
Now, the emails that you're forbidden to leave marked as unread, are;
- Mails that you're procrastinating your reply to.
Sure, 'forbidden' sounds a little bossy as we're all here for fun and freedom, but I need to be strict here hun 'cause I know what you're like! :) I, no joke, had more than 25 emails per inbox that dated back to the summer of 2014. Unread and un-tackled. Bonkers. And eep, poor ignored people. While trying to be super-perfect I was actually super-unprofessional. I clearly had no real intention of replying to them, but my guilt of not doing-so kept them lingering about my inbox nearly two and half years later. So if you have a wodge of these in your inbox, do the right thing and unmark those babies. Right now. Set them free. And start things afresh from this point on.
Indeed this approach does not eliminate our fortune of receiving emails we don't like and would rather not reply to, but it helps us move forward, learn from our mistakes and do things differently. That's what we're here for, right? Celebrating our imperfections.
So what next? How do you not fall into the same bad habits? To quote the epic Seth Godin, 'we should show up for people in a way we'd want people to show up for us'. So true. If we've sent a mail that we know isn't going to be well received, (perhaps chasing an already-late invoice-type mail as an example), then we would really appreciate a swift reply wouldn't we? We'd really appreciate knowing where we stood and being kept informed. Even if the response wasn't exactly what we wanted.
Well that's what you've got to do.
Every time you get a mail that you get a whiff of procrastination over, then recognise that feeling, suck it up and tackle it. There and then. Your reply doesn't have to perfect and rehearsed. Getting something done is better than perfect; as this process helps you to learn.
So enjoy your newly-liberated inbox my friend. And bask in the fabulousness of the freedom you'll feel as a result. Until next time :)