"You can seek to impose order on your inbox all you like – but eventually you’ll need to confront the fact that the deluge of messages, and the urge you feel to get them all dealt with, aren’t really about technology.""They’re manifestations of larger, more personal dilemmas" – Oliver Burkeman At the back-end of 2018, I did an experiment, I exported nearly two years worth of email and meeting data into an analytics tool .The results were unsurprising to me , but still alarming.Time spent in meetings , especially meetings arranged by others, was increasing exponentially. The amount of email was increasing too.Four years earlier I wrote a post called Six Ways To Kill Email , which set out a discipline for drastic email reduction.This regime worked for a long time, my inbox never contained more than half a dozen items. So what failed and why?
We don’t have a technology problem, we have a boundary problemWe’ve never had more productivity tools than we’ve had today, and yet we’ve rarely felt less productive.Part of the problem is that our new tools have given people unparalleled powers to intruding into one anothers time.
1: Ignore the quest for Inbox ZeroInbox Zero (the idea that every time you visit your inbox, you should systematically “process to zero”) was quite the thing a few years ago but in my experience it doesn’t work – as it actually focuses on email as the cause of the problem rather than the symptom.Even when you do successfully reach Inbox Zero, it doesn’t reliably bring calm if you’re still being invited to lots of meetings and assaulted by instant messaging.
2: Give yourself permission to walk out of meetingsLast year Elon Musk sent a memo to his staff advising them to ‘ just walk out of bad meetings’. Funnily enough it was a rule we had at Bromford many years ago instigated by then CEO Mick Kent.Walking out of meetings, or not turning up to ones that you’ve previously accepted may seem like bad manners. However if we are serious about valuing peoples time we have to develop new codes that allow people to maximise their productivity and creativity rather than just be polite and wasteful.
3: Don’t send any emails
This is by far the most effective thing you can do. Every email you send begs a reply – sometimes several. By pressing send you are literally making work for yourself. Copying people in to every email is not effective information sharing. Email in 2019 is still effective, but it’s best used sparingly.
4: Divert long chat threads to Chat Apps
At the formation of Bromford Lab , we turned off in-team email and moved to Whatsapp . Along with Trello and Google Docs, it’s the tool that’s survived five years of uninterrupted use. WhatsApp is great for creating groups and promoting a more social place to chat and interact without the annoyance of email threads. It doesn’t beg you to respond.
4: Delete emails that are three days old
This takes some bravery – but trust me it works. If you haven’t looked at something for three days it simply can’t be very important. Delete it. If anyone is bothered they will chase you up on it. 90% of the time they don’t – it was low value work that never really needed doing.
5: Unsubscribe from everything
Make it part of your day to unsubscribe from at least five email lists. Email marketeers breed like rabbits but you can stem the flow by turning off their constant distractions. Don’t just delete them and hope they will go away – they won’t. Also go into the notification settings of any work networks like Yammer you are part of. Turn them off – you’ll see a huge difference instantly.