More Life, Less Email: How to Conquer Your Inbox

We are programmed to believe that things have to be hard before they become easy. Think of all the language surrounding us that supports that theory. Work hard, play hard. Nothing in this world comes easy. No pain, no gain. Good things come to those who wait. From childhood to adulthood we are taught that in order to get to the good stuff, we need to first fight our way through the bad stuff.

And then one day we are just too exhausted to do any more.

On that day we have no other choice but to take a ‘shortcut’. We say no. We ask for help. We complete the assignment with slightly less vigor than usual. And what happens?

The world moves onward, just as if we had given it our full attention. In fact, sometimes things move forward in a better way.

There are many time-suckers in our overly connected world of today, the worst being our email inbox. Yes, we live in a world where messages sent to us through our computer run our lives.

Using our ‘work hard then things are easy’ mentality drives our need to be responsive, have no unread messages at the end of the day and solve major problems in 100 words or less. Get those emails done, and then you can rest. Right?

No. In fact, being responsive only draws more emails your way, because more people will rely on your responsiveness to solve their problems. And since when have you ever had an inbox without an unread message? The more emails you answer, the more people will email you.

And can we really solve a major problem through email? Nope. Chances are that it was either a very small problem you solved, or you just created a larger problem for yourself and others.

Sometimes working harder only rewards you with more work.

What about putting that email inbox in its place, and in return, get a few minutes/hours of ‘life living’ time back in your day? How about working a little less hard, and in return, create a little less work?

The next time your email inbox takes control of your day, try the following suggestions to regain control:

  • Know the difference between Urgency and Responsiveness. Yes, there are times that a quick response is needed. However, when an email goes to a group of people, of which you are just one, there is no prize for who responds first. Your voice will still be heard if you are the third to respond. Maybe the problem gets solved by other people responding before you do, eliminating your need to respond altogether. Urgency creates more urgency, which creates more work. Responsive creates thoughtfulness, which creates better answers with less work.
  • Get rid of your goal to have a ‘clean’ inbox. There will never be a scenario where your email inbox will be empty. And, what would be your reward if it were? Some sense of accomplishment that you had no unread emails for 5 minutes out of the day? This one is easy. Get over it. Shut the computer down.
  • Do not attempt major problem solving through email. Our problem solving abilities have become somewhat malnutritioned in our technology-enabled world. In the old days we used to get together in meetings to solve problems. That way, people could talk, interact, and understand what others were trying to say, suggest or create. While we don’t need more meetings in our day, communicating live for 15 minutes will solve more problems (and more time) than hours back and forth on email.

While we may not have control over what comes into our email inbox, we have full control over what we send out of our inbox. Urgency, unrealistic goals and biting off more than we can chew are classic work hard mentality. Tomorrow, try responsiveness, realistic goals, and old school discussion. All of those suggestions are much easier options AND each one will create space for something in your life other than emails.

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