Over the last two weeks, I’ve tried to usher those of you with dysfunctional inboxes into a more peaceful place — a world where emails are filed instantly, responded to promptly, and packed with valuable information. For the readers who adopted a suggestion or two and found your email lives a little more manageable, congratulations — you’re on the road to recovery.
If any of you opted for the zero inbox strategy, that’s even better; soon, you’ll find your mind at ease, and don’t be surprised if other problem areas of your life begin to improve. That pile of oily rags creating a fire hazard in your garage? Now you have the willpower to clean it out. Your car trunk full of loose tools, firewood and old magazines? Toss it all. Your faded, yellowing expense receipts from 1985? Take ’em over to the shredder. You’re done.
OK, this is supposed to be technology column, so I probably shouldn’t be advising you about housecleaning. But sometimes, even in the realm of technology, a “fresh start” is the best way to move forward. We’ve all got clutter in our lives, and very little of what clutters our lives is truly valuable. Sometimes it’s easier to toss it all in the wastebasket than it is to sort through it and figure out what’s worth keeping.
Last time, I tried to convince the intrepid readers of this blog to embark upon a truly daunting crusade: Taking control of email. Far too many of us find ourselves buried under a mountain of unanswered messages, unread alerts and unknown problems. This leads, inevitably, to email paranoia and frustration, where you have that terrible feeling of not even knowing what you don’t know.
This heartbreaking trauma is unnecessary. As I discussed, three simple steps can put you back on the road to email sanity. First of all, schedule your email in such a way that you can effectively process it – not every minute or every five minutes, but rather every thirty minutes or even every hour. When you check your email every few minutes, you might as well not use email, because it’s as immediate as answering the phone. Effective email management means giving yourself the time to process messages.
If your email volume is anything like mine, you probably spend a considerable amount of time reading, organizing, skimming, fretting or just plain agonizing over the amount of information you feel obliged to process every day. I know people whose lives are ruled by email – if they get away from the computer screen, their eyes are glued to Blackberries, fingers cramped from frenzied scrolling and typing.
Whether the totally “wired” (or, in the case of many of us, “wireless”) lifestyle represents the debasement of communication and presages the downfall of humanity will be a matter for historians and philosophers. What this humble columnist advocates is simple and modest: Take control of email before it takes control of you.
Taking control of email does not mean ignoring email. It doesn’t require rehabilitation or twelve-step programs. You won’t leave all your clients floundering desperately for answers – though you may have to “realign” the expectations of some of your “special needs” customers. Most importantly, by taking control of email, you’ll reduce the interrupt-driven portion of your workday and become more efficient. As a bonus, if you take control of email using a few simple rules for response, you’ll actually be more responsive to your customers andmore effective in your responses than you are now.