Is an empty inbox even possible?

Did you know that studies indicate most of us in business are spending up to 3 hours a day just trying to deal with incoming email? This time doesn’t include doing any of the work associated – just trying to get through the inbox. And if your email pushes through to your BlackBerry or iPhone it can be even worse!

3 hours a day equates to over 19-1/2 weeks a year – just trying to get through the inbox. No wonder it seems to be so overwhelming.

I don’t know about you, but I think this is just insane. I remember when I first heard those statistics. I realized that I was not spending any where near that amount of time dealing with my email, and I didn’t think I was the only one. I went on a hunt to identify what others were doing to manage this, and found we all had something in common.

It’s no big secret – we had all established a process and protocol that we use to manage our email. This process and protocol has just a few parts to it. And, if you implement even one of the steps, you will see an immediate result.

Here is my six step process:

  1. Establish protocols. When will you check your email? How quickly will you respond to incoming email? Make no mistake, if you don’t establish your own protocol, one will be established for you by default. The default is what we now have – 3 hours a day (or more) treating email as if it were some form of instant message, and allowing ourselves to be continually interrupted by incoming messages.
  2. Set up some rules to divert email you don’t need to see immediately. I have rules that move newsletters into reading folders, and other rules that move messages sent to a particular email account (yes, I have more than one) into its own folder. So what actually ends up in my inbox is already somewhat sorted.
  3. Turn off the feature that automatically checks for email every 5-10-15 minutes. (That is the push.) Instead, pull the email in to the inbox at the time you set to check your email.
  4. Turn off that shadow popup (or sound) that notifies you of new mail. Studies indicate we get interrupted, on average, every 6-8 minutes throughout the day. And, it takes us up to 10 minutes to re-focus on the task we were working on when the interruption occurred. That math doesn’t work! So, eliminate the interruption.
  5. Process your inbox systematically. I like to think of the inbox as a place where items land and the action is to sort. The inbox is not a place for things to live. The goal is an empty inbox at the end of each sort. Here are some sorting criteria that work well:
  • Read and delete (you don’t have to do anything else)
  • Read and respond (simple acknowledgment or one line response)
  • Read and schedule for future action (including delegating)
  • Read and file

I said six steps – so what is the last one? Stop treating email as if it were instant messaging. We have developed a culture that treats email as if it all required an instant response. Stop! You can put an automatic response on your email that alerts people to your rules and protocols. This will manage their expectations regarding when you will respond and can give them a way to contact you if something needs to be dealt with quicker. Trust me, they won’t get upset, and you won’t receive five more emails asking why you didn’t respond to the first one.

This is what you can expect: As I write this, I average around 250-300 incoming emails every day. I check the email generally twice a day – in the morning, and towards the end of the day. Each time, I spend no more than 30 minutes (and usually quite a bit less time) sorting, responding and scheduling action. Then, I turn it off till the next time.

A few years ago, I took a vacation to Ireland with my brother and sister. Every hotel we checked into had computer access. My brother and sister were checking their email every single day. I didn’t. I was on vacation. Instead, I had already scheduled my first day back as a catch up day. I came home to 894 new emails in the inbox (many others had been diverted). After two hours, every single one had been read, sorted, and scheduled appropriately. And I was caught up on what had been happening while I was away.

Give it a try. It works every single time.

(c) 2010, Terry Monaghan
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Managing distractions…

Why on earth would we need to manage the distractions? Doesn’t will power deal with it?

I am sure you have heard the statistics.

A survey of executives revealed that they get interrupted on average once every six to eight minutes, all day long, and if they are lucky, they will clock between 45 and 90 minutes of really productive work. And other research tells us that it can take you between 10 and 15 minutes to bring your focus back to the task you were working on before the interruption.

Am I the only one who wonders how on earth you can make that math work? By that formula, you get interrupted in eight minutes, and it takes you 10 minutes to get focused again, but before you can get yourself focused again, you will be interrupted again, and again, and again, and again.

No wonder so many people report having so little productive time during the course of their day. Of course, the tragedy is it can take you 8, 10 or 12 hours just to fit in that 90 minutes of productive time.

So what can you do?

Dan Kennedy says “if they can’t find you, they can’t interrupt you.”

How can you make yourself inaccessible? And do you want to? Interestingly, I run into people all day long who will tell me that they cannot possibly turn off their phone, turn off their email, turn off their instant messaging and close their door. I always wonder why not? Is being instantly available to everyone, all day long, more important than getting your job/project/goal done?


What if you just tried to give yourself 30 minutes of uninterrupted time to focus on the single most important task before you? Just 30 minutes. Turn off the phone – let it go to voicemail. Turn off the email – and I do mean turn it off. Close your office door (or don’t even go in to your office). Focus on that one task, get done, and then go ahead and turn everything back on.

I promise you two things. First, you will make massive progress on the task, and the project it is part of. Second, Everyone else will survive without you for 30 minutes.

Because, really, without a life, what’s the point?

Managing Your eMail Inbox

I am sure you have heard the reports that the average business person is receiving 470 emails every week, and is spending up to 15 hours a week just trying to get through the inbox. This doesn’t count the time spent doing any actual work on what has come in.

If you do the math (and I did), that is up to 19-1/2 weeks just sorting through the inbox. That is just crazy!

So, what to the rest of us do? Because I am definitely NOT going to be spending 19-1/2 weeks in my inbox this year.

First, set up a time to check your email. Disable the automatic send/receive, or disable the automatic notifier – so you won’t get sucked into the vortex. Then, during the scheduled time – motor through your inbox using the following steps:

Divert – set up rules for various types of email that you don’t need to see right away. For example – newsletters you have subscribed to, or mail from the one person who still insists on sending you the joke (or hoax) of the day. Send them all into their own folder (or the trash), and check them when you can.

Read and delete (or file) – look to see how much of your messages are just something you need to read and can then just file or delete. No response is required. No further action is required.

Read and respond – some messages can be dealt with quickly. You don’t need any more information, you can just respond and move on. Do that.

Read and schedule for future action – then there are those that need some further action. So, either file in your ‘to be scheduled’ folder, or go ahead and schedule it, and then you are done with it until the time arrives to act.

I’ve been doing this for years. I get 70-100 emails every day. I spend about 30 minutes a day going through the inbox, and it is empty when I am done with that time block.

Even if you only add one of these steps to your routine, it will make a difference.