Sunday, September 14, 2014

Slower & Simpler - Managing Your Email Inbox

Yes, I know, I've written about dealing with email in previous blogs.  Obviously I haven't totally conquered it yet, or I wouldn't keep collecting these articles on the topic.  This one, however, acknowledges that email is a necessary part of my work life, so #2 below is quiet helpful.

I can't simplify away the realities, but thoughtfully managing them is something I can work on for my own peace of mind.

Why You Should Probably Do Something About Your Email Inbox
macbook pro 7
*Photo Credit: “macbook pro 7″ by Idhren: (Creative Commons)
With advancing technology comes new forms of communication.
It’s a good thing.
But it also means we have to learn how to manage these new “inputs” or we will begin to feel like we’re drowning.
Sometimes, when we get overwhelmed with the number of emails, text messages, & comments we’re receiving, we’re tempted to quit them altogether.  We entertain the thought of deleting our social media accounts, throwing our phone into a large body of water, and putting an auto-reply on our email that just says “No.”  For some, this might ACTUALLY be the best thing you could do.  However, there are probably many more of us who need to count to ten, adjust our expectations, change our behavior, and regain control of these very helpful tools.
If you receive dozens (or even hundreds) of emails each week, then it may help you to consider the following:
1- You may be receiving emails that you don’t need…and it’s time for some purging.  Those newsletters, updates, blogs, and coupon notifications may be something you enjoy seeing on occasion, but, in light of your situation, they may not make the priority cut! :)
2- If all of them are necessary for your work/life situation, then you need to admit to yourself that processing large amounts of email is just part of what you do.  That’s okay.  It’s important.  It’s a form of communication.  We don’t stop speaking to people just because of the constant back-and-forth that it requires.
Being honest about #2 is important.  Why?  Because sometimes people act like processing your email to zero requires “too much effort” and it hinders you from “actually getting work done”.  But, processing email IS part of the work.  If you have already decided that your email is not all “junk” and that it is necessary for you to communicate, then the question is not “Should I process it?”, but rather “How (and when) should I process it?”.
…the question is not “Should I process it?”, but rather “How (and when) should I process it?”.
When you receive an email that requires action or response, you are either going to do something about it right then, or let it sit in your inbox until you do something about it.  It may seem obvious, but give it some thought.  That email will sit there until you decide to act (do it, plan it for the future, forward it, delete and forget it, etc.).  So, why not do that today?
My life requires that I manage very large amounts of information.  I have digital and physical inboxes that require daily attention.  When I don’t process as I should, things don’t go well.  When I have stacks of miscellaneous papers and stuff on my desk, I feel this sense of fear and tension and I can’t focus.  This has a little to do with my personal work preferences of clutter-free, clean spaces.  But, most of the negative emotion comes from that feeling that I may not be doing the things I’m supposed to be doing.  I look at the stack with a horror-stricken face, wondering “What’s in there, anyway?!?!?”  Is it just trash?  Is it something that needs to be filed? Are there related tasks that I’m supposed to be taking care of?
That’s the problem….I just don’t know.
Processing doesn’t necessarily mean DOING the things right then, just putting them into whatever system you use to plan your actions.  So, even if you are not someone who is attracted to clutter-free living, you can be motivated to do so out of necessity.
My feelings toward those physical stacks are the same as my feelings toward my other inboxes (email, text messages, Evernote, etc.).  I have processed several hundred emails this week, and, right now, my inbox contains 2 emails.  But it’s not always that way.  At times, I have had dozens of them sitting there, taunting me, waiting to be acted upon.  I hate that feeling.  When I process those inputs, I can make more informed decisions on how to spend my days.  It’s not a decision to allow my email to control me.  It’s actually quite the opposite.  I’m deciding to take control of email…and that requires giving myself enough time to keep it under control.
So, why should you do something about your inbox?  For your own peace of mind, and so you can actually do the things you want to do!

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