I have a love/hate relationship with email.
I love it because in so many ways it makes life easier. Yet, in so many other ways email can create a feeling of stress by manufacturing an artificial feeling of urgency.
In the old days before email
When I started practice as a graduate lawyer in 1999, email was rarely used. For the most part other lawyers and clients used snail mail with the occasional fax for something urgent. Client expectations were built around that system.
17 years later and technology has changed things markedly. Almost all correspondence is sent by email with expectation of an immediate response. This speeds you up but also creates unrealistic expectations where correspondence and speed are concerned.
Take back the power
While there are many positives to advancing technology such as efficiency, it also means we’re now held captive by our inboxes. Not managed correctly, email is a reminder that other people are pulling and tugging at you in different directions with the sole purpose of asking you to follow their agenda.
Want to break free from your inbox? You need to set your own agenda and view email simply as a productivity tool.
I set out some tips below to achieve this without sacrificing good client relations, thanks to a little help from Marie Kondo and her “Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up”.
KonMari your inbox
You might ask what Marie Kondo and her cult book about organising your house has to do with email?
The answer is plenty, from an inspirational point of view. While you can’t go to the extent of holding each email in your hand and asking yourself if it brings you joy before deciding whether to bin it, you can follow her general organisational ideas to give your email inbox and other electronic files and desktop the KonMari vibe.
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Tip 1: Before you start, visualise your destination
Before jumping in, madly deleting emails and re-organising your entire system, take a moment to sit quietly and ask yourself the following questions:
- How do you picture your ideal day?
- What does your ideal email inbox look like?
After you have a clear idea of what this looks like, think about how you can achieve it.
For example, do you need to:
- Create a series of electronic folders to help your email system work better?
- Unsubscribe from all those pesky newsletters and set up a separate ‘spam’ email address for those items?
- Implement a system where you acknowledge a client’s email and send a holding email in return advising when your schedule will allow you to respond in detail to their query?
Tip 2: Discard all visual clutter intensely and completely
While I don’t suggest you bin absolutely everything, you should be as ruthless as is reasonably possible. A good rule of thumb is to retain all that is required for legal or accounting reasons and for your business records, and organise it into categories.
Then delete, respond, forward or file your emails.
You might consider creating a to-do list along with your electronic file of emails to attend to. Having the to-do list allows you to physically move emails out of your inbox and creates a clutter free environment. This can make you feel more in control of your schedule, rather than seeing 100 emails in your inbox and feeling overwhelmed.
(Seriously, don’t underestimate the effect a “zero inbox” can have on your stress levels.)
Similarly, consider turning off all notifications on your desktop, laptop, smartphone and tablet. The notifications are simply a reminder of someone else trying to get you to follow their agenda.
Diarise when and how you look at your various inboxes and social media accounts. I promise you will feel less stressed without those little red circles taunting you about how many emails are in your inbox.
Of course, if you need to be responsive to client enquiries this should be done regularly, just not at the expense of dropping your other work every few minutes to respond.
Tip 3: Put your house in order and discover your true purpose
The key to organisation is to create a good system. Where email is concerned, the most logical way to organise emails into a system is an electronic folder system where emails relating to one particular client or subject are grouped together to allow you to find them more easily later.
Having your email under control will flow through all aspects of your business, allowing you to focus on simple, clear and uncluttered ideas. The end goal here is that once the distraction of email organisation is no longer an issue, you can focus on your true purpose and your business (the two are not necessarily mutually exclusive!)
- You are the boss of your email – act accordingly and set times each day to check and respond to email. This may, for example, be between larger tasks to keep your mind focussed on those larger tasks rather than being at the mercy of constant email interruptions.
- Consider whether each email needs a lengthy response. Keep things brief and do not invite unnecessary questions.
- With your electronic clutter under control you’ll be free to dedicate more time and passion to your business.
What do you do to organise your inbox? Have you tried applying the KonMari principles?