Every time I say that I zero out my inbox on a daily basis,
people look at me like I have two heads.
That’s right, I take it to zero every day, Monday through
Friday. And guess what? It’s not that hard. It just requires shifting a few
limiting beliefs and practices in response to your email.
Before I describe how to get to zero every day, let’s talk about the limiting beliefs that kept me under a pile of email for many years:
"My email in-box is
my de-facto to-do list"
This took me a long time to figure out, but using my email
inbox as a to-do list never worked for me. It’s ineffective, inefficient, and
whatever gets past the first page is forgotten (out of sight, out of mind).
"I can’t control
what’s coming in"
Yes, you can. I limit what comes in by unsubscribing from
list-servs, unplugging email from any social media that may forward messages to
it and whenever something comes in with an "unsubscribe” button at the bottom,
I use it. And the single best secret weapon to reduce what comes in is Unroll.me. It provides a constant monitoring of subscription emails coming into your account (so you can quickly and easily unsubscribe) AND it compresses those you do want to receive into one daily email.
"I have to answer
Not really. I have a few short rules on what I respond to (and
don’t respond to) that make deleting very easy. If I am cc’d, bcc’d or part of
a group email: delete. If someone is asking a collective group of people for a
favor (instead of taking the time to ask each person directly): delete. If I’ve never met you and our first point of contact is an email
from you asking for something time consuming: delete. If I haven’t seen or
heard from you in over a decade and you want a letter of recommendation from
me: delete. The bottom line is that
there are many items that come through my email that I neither need to commit
to, nor should get involved in.
Once I released myself from the limiting beliefs that kept
me buried in email, I developed a very simple 3 step process that I follow most
STEP #1: Quick Triage
I do a quick triage several times a day in order to: 1)
delete, 2) delegate, or 3) put into an ongoing task list. I’m a huge fan of
ToDoist (www.ToDoist.com) because it’s a great little task-management system that embeds itself
into your gmail account and connects to your Google calendar. A quick triage simply means checking my inbox a few times per day and pushing
one of four buttons:
2) Forward (to whomever on my team can attend
3) Todoist (so it goes to my to-do list software) or
4) Reply (only to
things that are time sensitive).
STEP #2: Provide Alternative Spaces for Communication
Team NCFDD communicates as minimally as possible via email,
even though our core team is spread across eight cities and our coaching staff
is spread across 23 cities. Why? Because we have a separate space for ongoing
communication during the day. We use a secret Facebook group for our core team
and we have a separate one for our coaches to interact, problem-solve, and get
questions answered. Both are far faster than email, build community, and keep
everyone engaged throughout the work day.
There’s no point in dumping a bunch of emails into a to-do
list, unless you have a weekly commitment to systematically sort and schedule them. Even
as an entrepreneur, I still use the Sunday Meeting as a way to plan my week. In terms of email, all
those tasks that have built up over the week get evaluated and put into the
time-space continuum (aka my calendar) during the Sunday Meeting.
I’ve lowered the bar on when, who and how fast I
need to respond to email and put a few mechanisms in place that get me to zero
daily. It doesn’t mean you’ll hear from me within 24 hours, it just means
everything that really matters and that can only be done by me will get addressed in due time.
I would love to hear your strategies about managing email so feel free to post below!
Kerry Ann Rockquemore, PhD
President and CEO,
National Center for Faculty Development & Diversity