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14 Bad Habits That Prevent Inbox Zero

14 Bad Habits That Prevent Inbox Zero

Managing email and the “infamous” Inbox Zero is creating quite a buzz these days.  Many of us have long entrenched email habits that prevent us from reaching max email efficiency.  Instead of processing and getting rid of emails, we tend to hoard them like they are little gold nuggets covered in mud, waiting to be refined.  And, of course, there is a slew of other habits that add to the email pile.

Here are my 14 cents. Let me know if I missed any in the comments section.

Let’s start.

1. Email Window Shopping

How many times have you opened your inbox, only to scroll quickly through the list?  This is a major waste of time.  If you open your email, do something!  Delete, archive, create tasks, reminders, etc.  Just opening and closing your email list is a sure way to never achieving Inbox Zero.

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2. Mark Unread

What’s this all about?  This is one of my favorites and it relates directly to the above mentioned point.  If you open and read an email–make a decision. If you need to do something about it and don’t have time now, create a task with a clear next step.  There is no reason to keep this email in your list; archive it and manage your task list!

3. No Rhythm

The tempo in which you process your emails has a lot to do with the routines you create.  If you don’t set up specific times to process your inbox, you’re allowing fate and impulse to decide for you when it’s going to happen.  Get in the habit of processing email at certain times, and you’ll end up achieving inbox zero multiple times during the day.  Bonus tip: by doing the above, you can also ensure you are alert and have enough energy to process email.

4. Setting Up for Failure

Creating powerful habits helps us to make sure things get done.  A powerful habit is a habit that you miss doing; i.e. if I missed it, I feel compelled to do what I can to correct that mistake. Many of us set a goal to process as many emails as we can; so in essence we are setting ourselves up for failure.  If you change that goal to achieving Inbox Zero twice per day, you’ll get addicted to success.

5. Writing long emails

Another email habit is writing long emails.  People don’t read emails, they browse through them. Do you really think that someone who gets on average 114 emails per day will read a long email?

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Arrange all the emails you’re sending in bullets and make sure that you never send our long emails.  Your prize?  You receive, in kind, shorter emails which will results in less time reading aimlessly.

6. Emotional Emails

Another thing relating to the point above: avoid expressing emotions in emails!  It creates long emails that lead to long replies and a lot of unnecessary correspondence that leads nowhere.  Emails are not a great medium to express emotions; a lot gets lost in the text, and often, the other party takes it out of context leading to, sometimes, disastrous results.

7. Email is not the only option

Sometimes you need to talk face to face or use something called a telephone!  Particularly relating to the above point, if there is an emotional point to convey, a phone call or meeting is best option for this.  Prior to writing an email, spend a second or two to consider if it will be more effective to communicate another way.

8. RE:RE:Re:RE

If you reply to an email that had more than 3 back and forwards, stop!  Something is not working. It’s time to consider a call or face to face meeting.

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9. Reply All

Target only specific people. Don’t CC people who are not relevant to an email just to “keep them in the loop,” unless of course you’re interested in creating more emails. Many times, people who are cc’d on email feel obligated to “contribute” which leads to more emails, delays, and confusion.  Emails, often, are tasks.  Tasks should be given to individuals who are accountable to get them done.  Keeping people in the loop should be done via periodic summary emails or meetings.

10. Gibberish

When writing an email, take your time, and write clearly.  If you email is not clear, guess what?  You’ll be getting at least one email from each recipient asking for clarifications.  Take time to draft, relax, and proofread an email.  Personally, I often draft my emails, and only send them out an hour later.  I find that when I space out the review, I better identify how to improve my response.  Indeed this takes discipline, but it will help minimize clarification emails from your recipients and you’ll be much more appreciated by your peers (and boss).

11. Working without structure

When processing emails, process with a set structure.  Either answers emails from newest to oldest or oldest to newest.  Don’t hop between emails, because in doing so, you are violating a previous rule–don’t read, skip, mark unread.  I like to answer the newest emails first.  It helps me give fast replies to returning emails and impress people who sent me just a few minutes ago an mail ;-).

12. Canned responses

How often do you find yourself re-writing similar emails?  When you process your emails, you tend to bump into emails that you know you’ve written before.  Instead of writing emails again and again, when you identify a certain email pattern, just copy/paste them into an email answers database and process those pesky ‘been there done that emails’ faster.

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13. Spam

I’m sure that overtime, you subscribed probably to at least 50 sites you’re not following anymore. Services like Unroll.me can help you unsubscribe quickly from services that clog your inbox with unnecessary newsletters.  When you see spam, spend the few seconds to unsubscribe; even though it can be painful, doing so will prevent you from seeing hundreds of emails over the course of the next year.

14 Send less emails!

Duh, if you want to receive fewer emails, send less email. Until next time! :)

More by this author

Haim Pekel

Haim Pekel is an entrepreneur and shares tips on productivity and entrepreneurship at Lifehack.

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Last Updated on July 10, 2020

The Power of Ritual: Conquer Procrastination, Time Wasters and Laziness

The Power of Ritual: Conquer Procrastination, Time Wasters and Laziness

Life is wasted in the in-between times. The time between when your alarm first rings and when you finally decide to get out of bed. The time between when you sit at your desk and when productive work begins. The time between making a decision and doing something about it.

Slowly, your day is whittled away from all the unused in-between moments. Eventually, time wasters, laziness, and procrastination get the better of you.

The solution to reclaim these lost middle moments is by creating rituals. Every culture on earth uses rituals to transfer information and encode behaviors that are deemed important. Personal rituals can help you build a better pattern for handling everything from how you wake up to how you work.

Unfortunately, when most people see rituals, they see pointless superstitions. Indeed, many rituals are based on a primitive understanding of the world. But by building personal rituals, you get to encode the behaviors you feel are important and cut out the wasted middle moments.

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Program Your Own Algorithms

Another way of viewing rituals is by seeing them as computer algorithms. An algorithm is a set of instructions that is repeated to get a result.

Some algorithms are highly efficient, sorting or searching millions of pieces of data in a few seconds. Other algorithms are bulky and awkward, taking hours to do the same task.

By forming rituals, you are building algorithms for your behavior. Take the delayed and painful pattern of waking up, debating whether to sleep in for another two minutes, hitting the snooze button, repeat until almost late for work. This could be reprogrammed to get out of bed immediately, without debating your decision.

How to Form a Ritual

I’ve set up personal rituals for myself for handling e-mail, waking up each morning, writing articles, and reading books. Far from making me inflexible, these rituals give me a useful default pattern that works best 99% of the time. Whenever my current ritual won’t work, I’m always free to stop using it.

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Forming a ritual isn’t too difficult, and the same principles for changing habits apply:

  1. Write out your sequence of behavior. I suggest starting with a simple ritual of only 3-4 steps maximum. Wait until you’ve established a ritual before you try to add new steps.
  2. Commit to following your ritual for thirty days. This step will take the idea and condition it into your nervous system as a habit.
  3. Define a clear trigger. When does your ritual start? A ritual to wake up is easy—the sound of your alarm clock will work. As for what triggers you to go to the gym, read a book or answer e-mail—you’ll have to decide.
  4. Tweak the Pattern. Your algorithm probably won’t be perfectly efficient the first time. Making a few tweaks after the first 30-day trial can make your ritual more useful.

Ways to Use a Ritual

Based on the above ideas, here are some ways you could implement your own rituals:

1. Waking Up

Set up a morning ritual for when you wake up and the next few things you do immediately afterward. To combat the grogginess after immediately waking up, my solution is to do a few pushups right after getting out of bed. After that, I sneak in ninety minutes of reading before getting ready for morning classes.

2. Web Usage

How often do you answer e-mail, look at Google Reader, or check Facebook each day? I found by taking all my daily internet needs and compressing them into one, highly-efficient ritual, I was able to cut off 75% of my web time without losing any communication.

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3. Reading

How much time do you get to read books? If your library isn’t as large as you’d like, you might want to consider the rituals you use for reading. Programming a few steps to trigger yourself to read instead of watching television or during a break in your day can chew through dozens of books each year.

4. Friendliness

Rituals can also help with communication. Set up a ritual of starting a conversation when you have opportunities to meet people.

5. Working

One of the hardest barriers when overcoming procrastination is building up a concentrated flow. Building those steps into a ritual can allow you to quickly start working or continue working after an interruption.

6. Going to the gym

If exercising is a struggle, encoding a ritual can remove a lot of the difficulty. Set up a quick ritual for going to exercise right after work or when you wake up.

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7. Exercise

Even within your workouts, you can have rituals. Spacing the time between runs or reps with a certain number of breaths can remove the guesswork. Forming a ritual of doing certain exercises in a particular order can save time.

8. Sleeping

Form a calming ritual in the last 30-60 minutes of your day before you go to bed. This will help slow yourself down and make falling asleep much easier. Especially if you plan to get up full of energy in the morning, it will help if you remove insomnia.

8. Weekly Reviews

The weekly review is a big part of the GTD system. By making a simple ritual checklist for my weekly review, I can get the most out of this exercise in less time. Originally, I did holistic reviews where I wrote my thoughts on the week and progress as a whole. Now, I narrow my focus toward specific plans, ideas, and measurements.

Final Thoughts

We all want to be productive. But time wasters, procrastination, and laziness sometimes get the better of us. If you’re facing such difficulties, don’t be afraid to make use of these rituals to help you conquer them.

More Tips to Conquer Time Wasters and Procrastination

 

Featured photo credit: RODOLFO BARRETO via unsplash.com

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