Less is More – Mastering Email, 14 years after my first message

Thursday, 11 August 2011, 10:58 | Category : General
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Marc and I have both posted about the “tyranny” of email and how what started off as a great communication tool gets misused horribly – particularly in the consulting industry. Here are 3 approaches I’ve tried since my last post.

1. Turning email off and on throughout the day at set times (Yes, I do mean completely OFF)

Hard this one – but surprisingly liberating. I find I get projects accomplished much faster without those Outlook notifications tempting me. And really, nothing bad is going to happen if you don’t see an email for 2 hours. However, you do need a work plan for the day so you can pull any docs or messages off your email first, otherwise you have to keep turning it back on and risk getting sucked back in!

Verdict: 7/10

2. Email management software

I tried a popular solution called AwayFind for a week, which notifies you of priority emails by text. However this is set by sender, and I found it hard to narrow down the list. Just another form of communication which mostly meant I had to go back to my email. It’s nifty software, could be good for another sector but for me it didn’t work.

Verdict: 5/10

3. The Zen approach

I’m a big fan of the Zen Habits blog by the US coach Leo Babauta. One of his most popular posts is called “Email Sanity”. As one would expect with a blog about living a “zen” life, this one is all about cleaning up and keeping it minimal. I do recommend anyone getting 50+ emails a day reads this. He gives good advice for making some changes NOW to your inbox which will clear the path for you to work easily and productively. You can then go back to the way you’ve set your email up and make some big changes, which takes a couple of hours, to get it sorted for the long term. Some of it is a bit scary, like moving all messages out of your inbox and into another folder so your inbox is empty – even if you haven’t read or responded to them yet. Also, unsubscribing to all the many distribution lists you’ve ended up on, because let’s face it, you are not ever going to read all those newsletters. This one takes ages but is well worth doing. I took some time to do everything suggested by Leo and can now see the wood for the trees. The challenge is whether I can a) write emails no longer than 4 sentences (!) and b) follow the rules for email sanity going forward.

Verdict: 9/10

They say you have to repeat something 28 times for it to become a habit. Today is day 2, and it’s all going well. Ask me in another month.

My name is Nicky, and I am a recovering email addict…

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