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How to Avoid Email Bankruptcy: 5 Rules That Work

How to Avoid Email Bankruptcy: 5 Rules That Work
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    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.

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    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.

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    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):

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    • 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:

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    • 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.

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    Leo Babauta

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

    What to Do in Free Time? 20 Productive Ways to Use the Time How to Find Your Passion and Live a Fulfilling Life The Gentle Art of Saying No for a Less Stressful Life Simple Productivity: 10 Ways to Do More by Focusing on the Essentials How to Pare Your To-do List Down to the Essentials

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    Last Updated on November 26, 2020

    How Relationships Building Helps Achieve Career Success

    How Relationships Building Helps Achieve Career Success

    As playwright Wilson Mizner supposedly said all the way back in the 1930s,

    “Be kind to everyone on the way up; you will meet the same people on the way down.”

    The adage is the perfect prototype for relationship building in 2020, although we may want to expand Mizner’s definition of “kind” to include being helpful, respectful, grateful, and above all, crediting your colleagues along the way.

    5 Ways to Switch on Your Relationship Building Magnetism

    Relationship building does not come easily to all. Today’s computer culture makes us more insular and less likely to reach out—not to mention our new work-from-home situation in which we are only able to interact virtually. Still, relationship building remains an important part of career engagement and success, and it gets better with practice.

    Here are five ways you can strengthen your relationships:

    1. Advocate for Other’s Ideas

    Take the initiative to speak up in support of other team members’ good ideas. Doing so lets others know that the team’s success takes precedence over your needs for personal success. Get behind any colleague’s innovative approach or clever solution and offer whatever help you can give to see it through. Teammates will value your vote of confidence and your support.

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    2. Show Compassion

    If you learn that someone whom you work with has encountered difficult times, reach out. If it’s not someone you know well, a hand-written card expressing your sympathy and hopes for better times ahead could be an initial gesture. If it’s someone with whom you interact regularly, the act could involve offering to take on some of the person’s work to provide a needed reprieve or even bringing in a home-cooked dish as a way to offer comfort. The show of compassion will not go unnoticed, and your relationship building will have found a foothold.

    3. Communicate Regularly

    Make an effort to share any information with team members that will help them do their jobs more effectively. Keeping people in the loop says a lot about your consideration for what others need to deliver their best results.

    Try to discover the preferred mode of communication for each team member. Some people are fine relying on emails; others like to have a phone conversation. And once we can finally return to working together in offices, you may determine that face-to-face updates may be most advantageous for some members.

    4. Ask for Feedback

    Showing your willingness to reach out for advice and guidance will make a positive impression on your boss. When you make it clear that you welcome and can accept pointers, you display candor and trust in what opinions your superior has to offer. Your proclivity towards considering ways of improving your performance and strengthening any working interactions will signal your strong relationship skills.

    If you are in a work environment where you are asked to give feedback, be generous and compassionate. That does not mean being wishy-washy. Try always to give the type of feedback that you wouldn’t mind receiving.

    5. Give Credit Where It’s Due

    Be the worker who remembers to credit staffers with their contributions. It’s a surprisingly rare talent to credit others, but when you do so, they will remember to credit you, and the collective credit your team will accrue will be well worth the effort.

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    How Does Relationship Building Build Careers?

    Once you have strengthened and deepened your relationships, here are some of the great benefits:

    Work Doesn’t Feel So Much Like Work

    According to a Gallup poll, when you have a best friend at work, you are more likely to feel engaged with your job. Work is more fun when you have positive, productive relationships with your colleagues. Instead of spending time and energy overcoming difficult personalities, you can spend time enjoying the camaraderie with colleagues as you work congenially on projects together. When your coworkers are your friends, time goes by quickly and challenges don’t weigh as heavily.

    You Can Find Good Help

    It’s easier to ask for assistance when you have a good working relationship with a colleague. And with office tasks changing at the speed of technology, chances are that you are going to need some help acclimating—especially now that work has gone remote due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

    Much of relationship building rests on your genuine expressions of appreciation toward others. Showing gratitude for another’s help or for their willingness to put in the extra effort will let them know you value them.

    Mentors Come Out of the Woodwork

    Mentors are proven to advance your professional and career development. A mentor can help you navigate how to approach your work and keep you apprised of industry trends. They have a plethora of experience to draw from that can be invaluable when advising you on achieving career success and advancement.

    Mentors flock to those who are skilled at relationship building. So, work on your relationships and keep your eyes peeled for a worthy mentor.

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    You Pull Together as a Team

    Great teamwork starts with having an “abundance mentality” rather than a scarcity mentality. Too often, workers view all projects through a scarcity mentality lens. This leads to office strife as coworkers compete for their piece of the pie. But in an abundance mentality mode, you focus on the strengths that others bring rather than the possibility that they are potential competitors.

    Instead, you can commit relationship building efforts to ensure a positive work environment rather than an adversarial one. When you let others know that you intend to support their efforts and contribute to their success, they will respond in kind. Go, team!

    Your Network Expands and So Does Your Paycheck

    Expand your relationship building scope beyond your coworkers to include customers, suppliers, and other industry stakeholders. Your extra efforts can lead to extra sales, a more rewarding career, and even speedy professional advancement. And don’t overlook the importance of building warm relationships with assistants, receptionists, or even interns.

    Take care to build bridges, not just to your boss and your boss’s boss but with those that work under you as well. You may find that someone who you wouldn’t expect will put in a good word for you with your supervisor.

    Building and maintaining good working relationships with everyone you come in contact with can pay off in unforeseen ways. You never know when that underling will turn out to be the company’s “golden child.” Six years from now you may be turning to them for a job. If you have built up a good, trusting work relationship with others along your way, you will more likely be considered for positions that any of these people may be looking to fill.

    Your Job Won’t Stress You Out

    Study shows that some 83 percent of American workers experience work-related stress.[1] Granted, some of that stress is now likely caused by the new pandemic-triggered workplace adjustments, yet bosses and management, in general, are reportedly the predominant source of stress for more than one-third of workers.

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    Having meaningful connections among coworkers is the best way to make work less stressful. Whether it is having others whom to commiserate with, bounce ideas off, or bring out your best performance, friendships strengthen the group’s esprit de corps and lower the stress level of your job.

    Your Career Shines Bright

    Who would you feel better about approaching to provide a recommendation or ask for promotion: a cold, aloof boss with whom you have only an impersonal relationship or one that knows you as a person and with whom you have built a warm, trusting relationship?

    Your career advancement will always excel when you have a mutual bond of friendship and appreciation with those who can recommend you. Consider the plug you could receive from a supervisor who knows you as a friend versus one who remains detached and only notices you in terms of your ability to meet deadlines or attain goals.

    When people fully know your skills, strengths, personality, and aspirations, you have promoters who will sing your praises with any opportunity for advancement.

    Final Thoughts

    At the end of the day, it is “who you know” not “what you know.” When you build relationships, you build a pipeline of colleagues, work partners, team members, current bosses, and former bosses who want to help you—who want to see you succeed.

    At its core, every business is a people business. Making a point to take the small but meaningful actions that build the foundation of a good relationship can be instrumental in cultivating better relationships at work.

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    Featured photo credit: Adam Winger via unsplash.com

    Reference

    [1] The American Institute of Stress: 42 Worrying Workplace Stress Statistics

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