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The How and Why of Wrestling Your Inbox to Zero
The How and Why of Wrestling Your Inbox to Zero Have you ever ended up TWO weeks behind in answering emails? An inbox full of missed opportunities, deadlines, and people you care about left with the sour taste that maybe you don't like them.
Not good for business. Very good for encouraging an unhealthy sense of guilt, shame and pressure.
The high tide in my inbox used to often put me way behind. I tried to claw my way out of the situation. I used filters, with my million and a half different email boxes to sort things into. I would take a deep breath and scraggle my way through the long list, taking out a good chunk... but there was always more left.
It got to the point where I was even resentful of people who wanted to give me gifts! People wanted to give me gifts, and I was resentful because it meant I had to say, "Thank you," and it was one more email in my box.
Well, that sure puts the "heart" in "Heart of Business," don't it? Err..rrp.
Breakthrough Time! I had a breakthrough. A big breakthrough. I've been wanting to share it, but I've been waiting impatiently to make sure that it actually stuck with me and wasn't just a passing fad.
But it's true. I've been getting my inbox to zero every day. Well, not every day. Not on weekends. And I've let it slide for two or three days when I'm on a push deadline. But I keep doing it, and I feel like I'm on top of the email world, like I've scaled a Mt. Everest of Re:'s. And let me tell you, the view is glorious.
But before I get to the how-to, let's take a closer look at what's going on.
The Two Reasons Email Accumulates in Such Big Drifts Why does email stay in your email box? There are lots of little reasons, but for me there are two big major ones why email sticks.
The first reason has to do with dependent tasks, where you're waiting on something or someone else before you're done with it. That .pdf you're waiting for and don't know when it's going to arrive. That appointment you can't schedule, because you're waiting for someone else. That seminar you're not sure you want to go to, but you want to keep thinking about.
The second reason has to do with uncompleted emotions. Someone emails you about a problem, and the thought of trying to solve it puts you into overwhelm. A client emails you asking how to pay you, and you have subtle, hard-to-name feelings of guilt that have to do with an unconcious thought: "Can I really charge that much?"
So, all those emails sit there. Waiting patiently for the attention you need. What can you do?
The Two Answers: A Name and The Backend First, let's tackle the emotional problem, since that will be quick. There are lots of methods for dealing with your emotional entanglements, some of which are quick, and some of which take years. And it's well worth doing the work of untangling your emotions and patterns.
But when you've got the email box in front of you, the best thing to do is to just name the emotion. I know it sounds simple and easier said than done. But let me give you an example.
Hmmm, I just spotted this email from someone who has given me a backhanded complement. I could actually interpret it as an insult if I wanted to. What do I do--delete it? Answer back angrily? Try to be polite?
Instead, what if I just took three breaths, remembered my heart, and named my emotion? "Angry." Three more breaths, remember my heart, "Angry." For a strong one like this, I may take a few minutes just noticing my anger, and then realizing I have some sadness underneath.
Just naming the emotions and taking the five minutes I needed to get some clarity on what's going on for me, allows me to take action. I may not have reached complete enlightenment on this email, but I've experienced some spaciousness in my heart, and I've responded to the email with composure, and deleted it.
I can hear you saying, "Whoa! If I spent five minutes on every one of my 109 emails, it would take me nine hours to get through them all! And by then I'd have another 109!"
Well, that's not actually true. I'm willing to bet, and I'm not a betting man, that of the emails in your inbox right now there are probably only a small handful that have that kind of strong emotional content.
And sure, it may take you 15-30 minutes to work through them. It'll be worth it, to gain the spaciousness in your life, to unblock the stoppage in your business flow.
And Now For the Backend Here's the practical bit: you need a contact manager. All those emails are from people, and each person represents a relationship you have. Your email inbox is supremely unsuited to help manage your relationship with that person.
What's more, your business is destined to know many, many more people than you do in, say, a circle of your close friends. With close friends, you can remember things. But when your business is making friends with dozens or hundreds of people, there is no way on earth you can remember what you need to.
The trick to bringing your inbox to zero isn't about completing every task related to the email, it's about finding a better place than your memory or your inbox for the information in the email to live.
Here's a for-instance:
A colleague sent me a pdf for a book she wrote that she wants me to review. I don't have time to read it right now, but I want to get to it. So here's what I do.
I hit reply, and say "Thanks for sending it! I'll get to it in the next week or so!" In the "bcc" slot, I put a dropbox email address, and her original email and my response automatically are added to history in my contact manager, saving the details of the email.
I save the .pdf to a folder I have for "review items." I go into her record on the contact manager, and create a "to-do" for a week from now: "Review her book" and I also enter where I stored the .pdf, in case I forget.
Then I delete her email. It's handled.
Want another one? I email a friend asking for a resource about blogging. He emails back and says he's looking for it and he'll get back to me in a week. I reply to him, "Thanks!" and add the dropbox email in the "bcc," so the emails are added to his record.
I go to his record in the contact manager, add a task called "Waiting For blogging resource" and set an alarm to remind me in two weeks, so I can bug him for it if I don't have it yet.
Then I delete the email.
Here's the Big Thing to Get Over It's going to take time. Your business is nothing but a web of relationships with people. If you don't care for those relationships, your business will falter. However, if you do care for those relationships, your business will thrive.
And why not give yourself the tools to do that properly?
There is no reason you need to live with a terrifying flood of emails in your inbox. Give yourself the time to name your emotions, carefully place information into a backend contact manager, and delete those emails. You'll breath easier, and your inbox will be at zero.
About the Author:
Mark Silver is the author of Unveiling the Heart of Your Business: How Money, Marketing and Sales can Deepen Your Heart, Heal the World, and Still Add to Your Bottom Line. He has helped hundreds of small business owners around the globe succeed in business without lousing their hearts. Get three free chapters of the book online: www.heartofbusiness.com
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