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The Reason Why You File Emails is Not What You Think

The Reason Why You File Emails is Not What You Think

You spend 10% of your working week filing emails, according to research by IBM. That’s 4 hours. Really? Half a work day filing emails? When I read the research, I didn’t believe it either. But, as someone who has been providing time-management training for over 15 years, I’ve met learners who are really passionate about their filing. You probably know someone like that too. You’ll have seen their Outlook folders to the left of their inbox. Some are truly a work of art – 60 folders deep and 6 wide. Structures that have grown and morphed over time, like an ant’s nest burrowed into the soil. You can almost feel those people desperately trying to drag an email into a folder, but it just won’t fit. Another folder gets created. And the nest of tunnels grows.

The IBM research looked at what we do with emails. The researchers used terms like “refinding” to describe the process of looking for an email that we’ve read in the past and that we need to read again or act on. They observed over 85,000 refinding actions across 345 users. Their insights are incredible.

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There are 3 Types of Filer

The users were split into 3 groups when it came to filing: No Filers, Frequent Filers, and Spring Cleaning Filers. Which one are you?

Not Replying to Emails When We Should

37% of the emails the users opened should have been replied to but weren’t. We call this the “Email Ostrich”. Someone who opens emails, winces, and then closes them again. I bet you’ve never done that ;)

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Creating Folders to Understand What We Need to Do

We create folders because we think we want to put our emails away for safekeeping until we need them again. Research suggests that over 80% of the emails we file away are never looked at again. What we’re really engaging in is a “just in case” response. “Well, I might need to cover my butt on the XYZ project, so I’ll file this,” we say. The gurus’ answer? Get good at using advanced search, because you’ll always know something about the email you want to refind. You’ll remember who it’s from, a key word, the rough date – something that will help you to refind the email. Add to that the fact that most companies archive emails for 7 years, and you’ll see that there’s no danger of losing the email.

The reason we create folders to the left of our inbox is to understand the email-related tasks we need to do. It’s a little like walking through the forest with a machete, chopping at the undergrowth. As we chop away, putting emails in folders, we can see the way ahead, as if we’re clearing the shrubs and leaves away to see the path ahead. The underlying reason we do this is that we are using our inbox as our to-do list, and we believe that getting sight of that to-do list is essential if we are to make progress.

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But here’s the real rub…

We’ve created a wonderful structure of folders, wide and deep, which has grown with us as we have grown into our job. The most damning insight from the research is that those who file take as long as those who do not file to refind an email! This is because the folders were created as a means of clearing the inbox, not as a means of organizing them for refinding. Therefore, when the Frequent Filer looks for an email, they cannot follow a logical sequence to refind that email because there isn’t one. Additionally, their filing structure on their email system is different from the one on their hard drive, so they essentially have two filing cabinets being used. Each one has a different structure according to its format, i.e. one filing cabinet for emails and one for everything else. That adds up to a poorly structured filing system.

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So, What’s the Answer?

  1. Stop filing your emails immediately.
  2. Put all your folders, with their emails, into archive.
  3. Become good at using advanced search to find your emails in Outlook, Gmail, or Apple Mail.
  4. Advanced action: Don’t use your inbox as a to-do list. Create one each day for yourself. This time management template will help.

Featured photo credit: Jeremy Bishop via unsplash.com

More by this author

Darren A. Smith

Founder of Making Business Matter - Training Provider to the UK Grocery Industry

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Last Updated on April 6, 2020

How To Be A Successful Person (And What Makes One Unsuccessful)

How To Be A Successful Person (And What Makes One Unsuccessful)

How would you define a successful person?

Perhaps it’s someone who’s ruthless, ambitious or intimidating? Perhaps it’s someone who’s business-minded, apathetic or controlling?

While on the outside, these traits may seem to play a part in what makes up a successful person, in truth it goes a lot deeper than this. There’s a sense of character that we rarely consider or synonymize with success, but it’s these intrinsic traits that are the true driving force behind a highly successful person.

So what are the differences between successful and unsuccessful people? And how to be a successful person?

This article will delve deeper into what qualities define success and failure so you can identify what’s needed for your own path to success.

1. Successful people compliment; unsuccessful people criticize.

Successful people look for positive aspects in others because they understand the importance of cultivating confidence and growth.

Feeling the need to criticize in a way that isn’t serving another constructively is showing a sense of disunity, disallowing the creative energy to flow and stalling success along the way.

2. Successful people learn to forgive; unsuccessful people hold on to grudges.

The art of forgiveness is the art of letting go. Successful people know that to forgive doesn’t mean condoning what someone has done, but rather releasing the negative emotion around it for their own peace of mind. Only then can they move past it and strive harder.

Unsuccessful people tend to hold on to grudges, causing the negative situation and energy to fester away and inevitably affect their success.

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3. Successful people accept responsibility; unsuccessful people blame others.

To be successful, you have to accept that you’re responsible for your actions, your reactions and ultimately your success and failures. This creates a mindset of empowerment and control.

Good outcomes are easy to take responsibility for, but when you realize the bad outcomes are also down to you, you can swiftly redirect to a better path and grow from the experience.

Unsuccessful people throw the blame onto others when things don’t go to plan. By doing this, they are not identifying with their own power and fall into victim mode resulting in the inability to see the opportunities for creating personal growth and therefore creating more success.

4. Successful people follow through with their habits; unsuccessful people say they do but in reality don’t.

Success is down to consistent habits and successful people know this and stick to them. They create a positive morning routine, they may meditate, they may take time to journal or plan out goals. They do this every day.

Unsuccessful people also know the importance of positive habits but they just don’t stick to them in a consistent way. They don’t make them a priority, create a lack of dedication, or just simply believe they’ll be successful without them.

5. Successful people want others to succeed; unsuccessful people want others to fail.

Highly successful people know that other people’s success doesn’t diminish their own. They look at people’s achievements and celebrate them because it’s about focusing on the element of thriving which ultimately benefits everyone.

Sometimes people don’t outwardly say they want someone to fail and may even seem to celebrate another’s success. But deep-down there is an element of jealousy or hope for failure. This comes from a lack mentality, triggering self-limiting beliefs about their ability to succeed and playing the comparison game.

6. Successful people keep a ‘to-be’ list; unsuccessful people don’t know what they want to be.

Successful people focus, not just on what they want to do, but also how they want to be. This stems from knowing the importance of personal growth within the journey to success and becoming a person capable of achieving that success.

Unsuccessful people tend to focus on the end goal without giving much thought to the person they want to become to get there. Dismissing this crucial part of success can be one of the major downfalls as working on yourself is paramount to creating a successful life.

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7. Successful people focus on themselves; unsuccessful people focus on others.

While successful people focus on their personal growth and concentrate on their responsibility for success, unsuccessful people spend much of their time focusing on what others are doing.

They compare themselves to others in a detrimental way and use it to create the energy of lack and low self-worth within themselves.

8. Successful people set goals; unsuccessful people just go with the flow.

Everyone knows that to be successful, you have to set yourself goals.

Thinking big and believing you can achieve them gives you something to strive for. It creates structure and it creates a game plan no matter how small the goals are.

Unsuccessful people don’t set goals, which means, they may have a great idea but constantly feel lost trying to achieve them and causing them to give up more easily.

9. Successful people focus on the positive; unsuccessful people focus on the negative.

It’s really simple; a positive mindset sends you on the direction of success and a negative mindset can only steer you towards failure.

When you’re in a positive state (even when facing a particular challenge), you attract more positive opportunities. When you only see the negative, you literally blind yourself from seeing answers to problems because you’re usually so fixated on the problems.

10. Successful people embrace change; unsuccessful people fear change.

Everything is temporary and change is inevitable. Successful people realize this and know that change is a necessary part of success. And so they’re willing to embrace change.

Unsuccessful people want change but fear it happening or find it hard to embrace the change that inevitably needs to happen. This just slows it all down and makes the process harder than it needs to be.

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Choose to see all change as positive and always serving you on your road to success.

11. Successful people share information; unsuccessful people horde information.

Sharing is a concept that successful people understand and implement. It comes from an abundance mindset and the want to help others succeed around you.

Keeping information to yourself when you know it’ll benefit others comes from a lackful and fearful mindset. When you feel you have to act in order to benefit yourself and no one else, it will only take your success so far.

12. Successful people read everyday; unsuccessful people watch TV everyday.

This ties in with having consistent positive habits. When they have downtime, successful people will fill their mind with motivational books and know the benefits of focusing the mind to read.

When your relaxation time consists of sitting on the sofa and binge watching TV, while it’s okay to a point, it’s choosing a less stimulating path and dodging a more productive way to use your spare time.

Successful people use this time wisely and implement it into their desire to succeed.

13. Successful people show gratitude; unsuccessful people show entitlement.

The attitude of gratitude is the secret weapon for every successful person.

Whether it’s gratitude for where they are no matter what stage they’re at, for the people around them and even the challenges they face, appreciation for everything brings more things to be grateful for (and therefore success) into their lives. In fact, there’re a lot you can be grateful for: 60 Things To Be Thankful For In Life

Unsuccessful people usually feel like the world owes them their eventual success. They don’t fully appreciate the opportunities, the lessons or the people that help steer them on the path.

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As a result, progress feels much slower and harder to reach simply because they’re not in a state of appreciating the ins and outs of the journey.

14. Successful people talk about ideas; unsuccessful people talk about people.

Successful people focus on creativity and the different ways they can achieve success. In other words, they’re more focused on solving the problem by creating inspired ideas and this is what they talk about.

Unsuccessful people tend to focus on external sources, usually other people. They rely on others for ideas, or they focus more on what other people are or aren’t doing. This goes back to pushing the blame or responsibility to the people around them rather than taking responsibility.

15. Successful people give the credit to others; unsuccessful people take the credit for themselves.

If the success is a team effort, even if most of the work was done by you, you give credit to others and share in the celebration. Acknowledging the contributions of others is a common trait in successful people.

On the other end of the spectrum, those that take all the noteworthy credit for themselves, despite not being the only one who worked towards the goal, is on a surefire route to some degree of failure in the long term.

Final Thoughts

Successful people definitely have a different perspectives on success to those that try and fail.

A mindset of gratitude, teamwork and putting more emphasis on the journey rather than the destination are all key elements when it comes to success.

Learning and emulating these characteristics and traits of highly successful people from a space of growth and self-improvement will help you achieve the success you’re dreaming of.

More Tips about Achieving Success

Featured photo credit: Jude Beck via unsplash.com

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