Advertising
Advertising

How to Avoid Email Bankruptcy: 5 Rules That Work

How to Avoid Email Bankruptcy: 5 Rules That Work
Inbox

    The Washington Post recently had an article on email bankruptcy that discussed a number of people who are giving up on email (or just deleting all their old messages) after being buried under the pile of messages. Merlin Mann responded by saying that even bankruptcy isn’t enough to save him:

    A one-time erasure of communication debt would give temporary relief, but the basic challenge remains; the net number of requests for my attention exceed my ability to provide that attention by at least an order of magnitude. And the disparity around my ability to thoughtfully respond to my pile may be ten or more times worse still. The scale is insanely out of whack.

    If you’re one of those people who is drowning in deluge of email, you have options. You don’t need to go as far as declaring email bankruptcy — and declaring yourself incompetent in dealing with the world of technology and business today.

    Advertising

    We’re going to look at an approach that applies rules to your email processing to help you get out from under the pile, and to help you stay out, no matter how many messages you get a day. But first, let’s look at three principles that will guide us in this approach:


    Principle 1: You don’t need to respond to every email. If you get more than 50 a day (or even hundreds), you can’t possibly.

    Principle 2: Prioritize. If you can’t respond to every email, you must realize that you’ll have to prioritize in order to respond to the important ones. The rest will have to be prioritized too, and the lowest priority will just be given a glance.

    Advertising

    Principle 3: You can’t do email all day. Admit this to yourself. You have other things to do, more important than email. So only do it at certain times of the day. One of the problems noted in the Post article is that people no longer feel like they’re done working for the day. Well, the only way to feel done for the day is to set a time limit, and when the limit is reached, you’re done. The rest you’ll have to get to tomorrow. Even in the rest of our work lives, we never finish every single task on our to-do list. We work until the 5 o’clock whistle blows, and we go home.

    Using those principles, let’s look at a system of rules to help deal with massive amounts of email:

    Rule 1: Separate the wheat from the chaff. We all know that there are certain emails that must be dealt with today, and others that can languish in a folder for a week and it wouldn’t kill us. So let’s set up some filters to deal with them (I’m using Gmail as an example, but most mail programs have similar filters or rules):

    Advertising

    • Important. Create a filter with all of your important contacts (coworkers, colleagues, advertisers, business associates, mom, etc.) in the “from” field. Label these “important”. You could also have a keyword, such as “batgirl”, that you put in your filter for the “important” label. Then put that keyword in your signature, and anyone who responds to one of your emails gets labeled “important”. These will remain in your inbox, and you can check them 2-3 times a day.
    • Reports. This will vary from person to person, but I have a lot of “information” type emails that are not urgent but that I don’t want clogging up my inbox. Create a filter with the email addresses of all these types of emails (amazon.com, your blog stats services, your calendar notices, etc.) and label these “reports” and have them automatically archived. Now these won’t be in your inbox. You can check these once a day.
    • Others. This is all the rest. Create a filter with “important” and “reports” in the “doesn’t have” field, and have these emails labeled “other” and automatically archived. This will prevent your emails with the “important” or “reports” labels from being put into this “others” folder. Now your inbox should only have the “important” emails in it.

    Rule 2: All old emails go into “others“. This is the only way to get your inbox clear in the beginning — after this point, you’ll keep it clear. Even if you have emails from your important contacts, you need to get your head above water. Dump them all in the “others” folder and archive them out of your inbox. Your inbox should now be empty. Let’s keep it that way with the following rules.

    Rule 3: Set regular times to process email. You shouldn’t have your email notifier on all the time. Learn to hold yourself back from checking email 20 times a day. Do it in 2-3 sessions a day, at set times. Let’s say 10 a.m., 1 p.m. and 4 p.m., if you get a lot of email, or 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. if you don’t. Even better: only once a day. Whenever you feel the pull to check email, stop yourself. Take a deep breath. Now get back to the task at hand.

    Rule 4: Scan through “others” and prioritize. The Others emails is really what makes you feel overwhelmed. Most of us can deal with the Important emails just fine, and scan through the Reports emails. But for the Others, we feel that we should be responding to them all, or we are incompetent or that people will feel we’re arrogant. Well, we need to own up to the fact that we cannot respond to them all (Principle 1). We have to live with the fact that some people are going to think we’re arrogant. Here’s how to deal with Others:

    Advertising

    • Scan. In your first email processing session of the day, quickly go through the Others emails, and decide if they should be deleted or responded to. In Gmail, I do this quickly by using the keyboard shortcuts: “#” to delete, “y” to archive, “o” to open. So I go through each email, read it, and either delete it or mark it for a response.
    • Prioritize. Which ones do your mark for a response? The ones that will have the most benefit for you. Sometimes an email could lead to a job offer, or advertising, or a collaboration that could pay off big time. Those are the ones you need to respond to. Sometimes it’s just a really interesting email that you’d like to respond to. If that’s the case, go ahead an mark it. But for many, you will simply have to read them and move on.
    • Canned response. If you feel you need to respond to most emails, you can set up a few canned responses using a text expansion program such as AutoHotKey. I would recommend you set up 5-10 different canned responses, instead of just one. One response to thank them for their positive feedback, another to turn down a request, etc. If you notice you give the same response a lot, enter it in AHK and set up a key combination. Then, by pressing just a few keys, you can have your canned responses out in a hurry, perhaps customizing them with a few personal words.
    • Mark for later. The ones that you decide are a higher priority, that need to be responded to, you should label “Respond”, and remove the “Others” label. This just takes a second. Then move on. Then in your later email processing session, go through the “Respond” folder and do a quick response.

    Rule 5: Set a timer, process quickly, and be done. You should set a timer for 15-30 minutes (depending on the volume of your email), so that you don’t end up doing it for more than an hour. Remember, when you’re done with your email session, you’re done. You can breathe easy and get to the rest tomorrow. Here’s how to process quickly and empty your inbox:

    • Process the important emails (the ones in your inbox) first, to empty. Respond quickly, or delete, or forward, or archive (for later reference), or write down any tasks that need to be done later on your to-do list. Don’t ever read an email and then leave it sitting in your inbox. If an email requires a longer response than you can do right now, mark it “Respond” and get to it later.
    • Scan through Reports and Others. Most of the Reports and Others emails don’t need a response or action. Just read them and either delete, forward or archive. Mark the ones that need a response “Respond” and get to it later.
    • Respond. Once you’ve gone through the Important emails in the Inbox, and scanned and marked the Reports and Others, all you should have left is Respond. For these, you might not get done today. That’s OK. Do as many as you can, quickly, and leave the rest for tomorrow. There’s no need to empty this folder. When the timer goes off, get out and be done.
    • Keyboard shortcuts. You really should memorize the important shortcuts. For Gmail, they are “r” for reply, “f” for forward, “#” for delete, “y” for archive, “o” for open. And really, those are the only actions you need. Once you get good with the keyboard shortcuts, processing should be a breeze.

    More by this author

    Leo Babauta

    Founder of Zen Habits and expert in habits building and goals achieving.

    The Gentle Art of Saying No How to Find Your Passion and Live a Fulfilling Life Simple Productivity: 10 Ways to Do More by Focusing on the Essentials How to Pare Your To-do List Down to the Essentials A Guide to Becoming a Better Writer: 15 Practical Tips

    Trending in Communication

    1 The Key to Happiness and Leading a Fulfilling Life 2 13 Ways Happy People Think and Feel Differently 3 15 Inspiring Ideas to Boost Your Motivation for Success 4 What Is an Existential Crisis and How to Cope with It 5 Joy Vs Happiness: What’s the Difference and Can We Achieve Both?

    Read Next

    Advertising
    Advertising
    Advertising

    Last Updated on April 23, 2019

    13 Ways Happy People Think and Feel Differently

    13 Ways Happy People Think and Feel Differently

    Let me begin by being 100% frank with you – everyone is capable of happiness.

    Happiness is first a choice but it also takes persistence to maintain. Happiness is our birth right and my mission is to help as many people as I can live their happiest life.

    My mission is to spread the message that everyone deserves happiness.

    To live a happy life; however, you must do the work, gain the necessary knowledge, and increase your awareness.

    You must fully embody this state and begin to think and feel happiness on every level of your being.

    Often times, excuses present themselves and our mind gives us the reasons why we can’t be happy:

    “I am too busy right now to focus on happiness”

    “I will be happy when I finish school, when I have the money, when I am in the right relationship, when I have kids, when my children are older….”

    “I would have had a happy life if this traumatic event had never happened”

    “I don’t deserve happiness”

    EVERYONE deserves happiness. The reason that you are here right now is because you have a purpose and you are on the earth to enjoy your journey.

    Think BIGGER than your excuses. Push FARTHER than your complaints.

    Don’t be pulled away from greatness. Get uncomfortable. At least these are what happy and successful people do on a daily basis.

    This article highlights the top 13 tips and tricks of how happy people think and feel.

    If you would like to begin embodying this life-changing state, then… Here are the 13 ways Happy People Think and Feel Differently:

    1. Happy People Put Happiness First

    Happy people have made the decision that their end goal is happiness.

    Every situation, event, bad day ultimately ends with happiness.

    To them, happiness is equivalent to sleep and water – it is a necessity to their life. To live an unhappy life is to have never lived at all.

    The happy person asks,

    “What would be the point of living if every day and moment were filled with negativity?”

    Advertising

    “Why would I deplete my energy on negativity when I expend less to be positive?”

    They make happy-based decisions which means in EVERY MOMENT they choose happiness.

    If their circumstances can’t change then they instead change their perspective, they look for the silver lining in the negative.

    Happy people don’t let negativity steal their moments away – a positive mindset always prevails.

    If you ask a happy person how their day was, they will always answer your question with a highlight or a lesson learned.

    2. Happy People Embrace Pain

    I know what you are thinking –

    “No one is ALWAYS happy”

    or …

    “Even happy people get in bad moods”

    and …

    These statements are absolutely accurate.

    Happy people aren’t always happy and they DO get into bad moods. They get overwhelmed, they feel defeated, and their feelings get hurt.

    Happy people aren’t invincible and they feel pain just like everyone else. The only difference between happy people and people who let negativity run their lives is that…

    Happy people quickly acknowledge their pain and they make a decision to find a way to transform their pain into something greater. They also use these 13 simple ways to shake off the sadness.

    Happy people admit the negativity they feel and they do what it takes to get back into their natural state: happiness.

    When your end goal is happiness, then you will find a way to achieve it no matter how much strength you have to muster.

    3. Happy People Have a Happy Self-Image

    We all have an image in our minds that we subconsciously live up to.

    The reason that change is so hard is because our subconscious mind is programmed to live by how we define ourselves.

    How are you currently defining yourself?

    For happy people, they see themselves with a smile, positive outlook, and/or a bounce in their step. When an event or situation arises that brings in a negative emotion, they quickly change their state to resemble their natural self-image.

    Advertising

    When happy people are in a bad mood, it feels unusual to them because feeling negative isn’t aligned with how they see themselves.

    When they feel upset, they acknowledge the negativity and look for a solution to bring their emotions to the level of how they perceive themselves.

    Look at how you define yourself today – your mind and body are always trying to live up to the definition it is taught to believe.

    Your body’s job is to keep you in a “normal” state because this is where it feels most comfortable.

    If your self-image is happy, then your mind and body will naturally be brought back to where it feels at home. Your actions will be a clue to how you define yourself.

    4. Happy People Have a Strong Support System

    The happiest people know that it takes a village and they lean on others for support.

    Happy people feel comfortable reaching out for help when they feel that their resistances are overpowering them. They quickly sense their negativity and they tell somebody.

    Happy people ask for assistance when they can’t figure out a problem. Seeking help takes strength and it never gets in the way of their self-worth. Happy people appreciate the wisdom that their support system provides.

    They have strong connections with the people who are close to them. They never trudge through tough times alone because jeopardizing their happiness for too long would be detrimental to their well-being.

    5. Happy People Safeguard Their Minds from Negative Triggers

    Warding off negativity is almost impossible when we live in a society that lives by what went wrong and feeds off of what could go wrong. News travels instantaneously so it would be unrealistic to shut this out of your life completely.

    However, one strategy that happy people use to safeguard their minds is regulating their environment.

    We have a lot of control on how we allow our environments to affect us. We can control our social media feed, the television shows and movies we watch, the books that we read, the people that we spend our time with, and the places that we hang out.

    If happiness is your end goal, then take a good look at what is bringing you down. What triggers your unhappiness? See if there is anything in your environment that can be changed……

    What we listen to, read, and who we hang out with influence our mind, what we think about, what we worry about, our reactions, and behaviors.

    Happy people know what triggers a feeling of negativity and it feels out of alignment for them so they do what it takes to avoid it.

    They might regulate their social media news feed to reflect the information that brings them positive energy. They might regulate the people that they spend their time with. It is important to hang out with like-minded people.

    What are you triggers? How can you avoid the negativity in your environment?

    These are ways that happy people regulate their environment and safeguard their minds.

    6. Happy People Know When to Say “No”

    Happy people know when to sit one out and say “no.” They do this to protect their happiness and well-being.

    Life gets overwhelming – a lot of people need our attention and the to do list can seem never ending.

    Advertising

    Happy people give themselves permission to take the day off and they feel comfortable with saying “no” when their stress levels begin to climb. They understand that those around them aren’t benefiting from someone who is frazzled, overwhelmed, and tired.

    A happy person identifies their negative emotion and then they quickly treat it to bring themselves back to their “normal” state, so that they can be at their best for not only themselves but for those around them, too.

    A simple “no” can ultimately mean many more “yes’s” in the future because happiness has a long battery life. You can take a look at Leo Babauta’s article The Gentle Art of Saying No and learn to say no.

    7. Happy People Are Good Evaluators

    Happy people can quickly sense when something is off with themselves or others. They are very intuitive to happiness levels. When someone isn’t quite right, they are the first ones to notice.

    Being able to evaluate happiness means that you can identify when negativity is lingering around for too long.

    We all have bad days; however, the happy person evaluates often and quickly intervenes.

    In other words, happy people frequently evaluate their state and immediately change when their pessimism is overshadowing their joy.

    8. Happy People Bring Other People Up

    What goes on inside of us is mirrored into our physical world.

    What we think about literally consumes our life and is displayed in our work, relationships, and attitude.

    Happy people naturally feel good inside and about themselves so they treat others the way that they treat themselves. It never feels forced to give a compliment or to help out a stranger.

    When we are truly happy with ourselves, everyone around us has a better experience. Happy people are kind to themselves and because of this, it feels natural to them to want to make others’ happy, too.

    9. Happy People Go After Their Dreams

    Happy people are always following the joyful path. They make happy-based decisions and because of this, they always end up where they want to be.

    It’s absolutely impossible to be happy by following an undesirable path, which is quite opposite for unhappy people.

    Most people journey through life on a path they think they are “supposed” to be own. Warning signs (negativity) are often ignored because they truly believe that these feelings are a normal part of life.

    Negativity is NOT normal.

    The happiest people investigate the negativity in their life and quickly analyze the results. This process allows them to get back on the joyful path which ends in a desirable outcome.

    Follow your happiness and your dreams will come true (If that isn’t motivation then I don’t know what is!)

    In addition to happiness, here are 14 amazing things that happen when you live your passion.

    10. Happy People Never Sweat the Small Stuff

    The only expectation that the happy person has is that they remain in a joyful state.

    They rarely have expectations for the events and people in their lives because they know that this is a sure way to get let down.

    Advertising

    The happiest people take life as it comes – you could say that they roll with the punches. When you don’t have expectations, thenyoue can just sit back and watch how beautifully life unfolds.

    Happy people understand that bad things are inevitable, they are a part of life – The car will break, the kids will make mistakes, people will be late, and dinner will burn.

    If it’s not anything seriously affecting their lives, then they don’t give their energy to it.

    11. Happy People Rarely Have to Prove That They Are Right

    Happy people remember that it’s more important to live up to what they believe. When you live your life aligned with your belief system, then there is no need to explain or prove yourself to others.

    Differences in opinions are inevitable, but the happiest of people know it’s wasted energy to defend their position.

    It is more effective to simply show people, through actions, how you think, feel, and what you believe.

    Energy is saved, arguments are diminished, and credibility/respect are gained when we live by what we believe.

    12. Happy People Smile (Even When They Don’t Want To)

    Smiling is one of the healthiest things we can do; and happy people use this simple trick quite often.

    It has been proven that smiling has the ability to boost your immune system, decrease stress levels, and can even make you look younger. The benefits of smiling have even been backed up by science.[1]

    Better yet, smiling is contagious. When you engage in a quick smile, you are likely to brighten someone else’s day along with your own. It is no wonder why happy people smile often!

    13. Happy People Live Life in the Present Moment.

    When we are genuinely happy, we are living for the moment.

    Happy people let go of the past, enjoy the present, and look forward to the future. They take the moments for what they are worth – they only invest their energy in what feels right to them.

    Everyone is capable of living a happy-centered life. You deserve a life that you desire – your dream life. All you have to start doing is make happy-based decisions TODAY.

    In every moment, decide on what makes you happy – decide on what gets you excited. Stop doing what you don’t love, don’t listen to the people that you dislike.

    If you are engaging in something that isn’t bringing you joy, then quit doing it. Listen to your heart, stop ignoring the warning signs (negativity) because they are there for a reason.

    I have observed, studied, and interviewed some of the happiest and most successful people along with some of the most miserable and self-loathing.

    It starts with one decision – happiness.

    The happiest, most successful people choose happiness with EACH and EVERY decision. And you can start doing this today.

    Featured photo credit: Autumn Goodman via unsplash.com

    Reference

    [1] Harvard Business Review: The Science Behind the Smile

    Read Next