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14 Bad Habits That Prevent Inbox Zero

14 Bad Habits That Prevent Inbox Zero
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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 21, 2021

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)
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No matter how well you set up your todo list and calendar, you aren’t going to get things done unless you have a reliable way of reminding yourself to actually do them.

Anyone who’s spent an hour writing up the perfect grocery list only to realize at the store that they forgot to bring the list understands the importance of reminders.

Reminders of some sort or another are what turn a collection of paper goods or web services into what David Allen calls a “trusted system.”[1]

A lot of people resist getting better organized. No matter what kind of chaotic mess, their lives are on a day-to-day basis because they know themselves well enough to know that there’s after all that work they’ll probably forget to take their lists with them when it matters most.

Fortunately, there are ways to make sure we remember to check our lists — and to remember to do the things we need to do, whether they’re on a list or not.

In most cases, we need a lot of pushing at first, for example by making a reminder, but eventually we build up enough momentum that doing what needs doing becomes a habit — not an exception.

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From Creating Reminders to Building Habits

A habit is any act we engage in automatically without thinking about it.

For example, when you brush your teeth, you don’t have to think about every single step from start to finish; once you stagger up to the sink, habit takes over (and, really, habit got you to the sink in the first place) and you find yourself putting toothpaste on your toothbrush, putting the toothbrush in your mouth (and never your ear!), spitting, rinsing, and so on without any conscious effort at all.

This is a good thing because if you’re anything like me, you’re not even capable of conscious thought when you’re brushing your teeth.

The good news is you already have a whole set of productivity habits you’ve built up over the course of your life. The bad news is, a lot of them aren’t very good habits.

That quick game Frogger to “loosen you up” before you get working, that always ends up being 6 hours of Frogger –– that’s a habit. And as you know, habits like that can be hard to break — which is one of the reasons why habits are so important in the first place.

Once you’ve replaced an unproductive habit with a more productive one, the new habit will be just as hard to break as the old one was. Getting there, though, can be a chore!

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The old saw about anything you do for 21 days becoming a habit has been pretty much discredited, but there is a kernel of truth there — anything you do long enough becomes an ingrained behavior, a habit. Some people pick up habits quickly, others over a longer time span, but eventually, the behaviors become automatic.

Building productive habits, then, is a matter of repeating a desired behavior over a long enough period of time that you start doing it without thinking.

But how do you remember to do that? And what about the things that don’t need to be habits — the one-off events, like taking your paycheck stubs to your mortgage banker or making a particular phone call?

The trick to reminding yourself often enough for something to become a habit, or just that one time that you need to do something, is to interrupt yourself in some way in a way that triggers the desired behavior.

The Wonderful Thing About Triggers — Reminders

A trigger is anything that you put “in your way” to remind you to do something. The best triggers are related in some way to the behavior you want to produce.

For instance, if you want to remember to take something to work that you wouldn’t normally take, you might place it in front of the door so you have to pick it up to get out of your house.

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But anything that catches your attention and reminds you to do something can be a trigger. An alarm clock or kitchen timer is a perfect example — when the bell rings, you know to wake up or take the quiche out of the oven. (Hopefully you remember which trigger goes with which behavior!)

If you want to instill a habit, the thing to do is to place a trigger in your path to remind you to do whatever it is you’re trying to make into a habit — and keep it there until you realize that you’ve already done the thing it’s supposed to remind you of.

For instance, a post-it saying “count your calories” placed on the refrigerator door (or maybe on your favorite sugary snack itself)  can help you remember that you’re supposed to be cutting back — until one day you realize that you don’t need to be reminded anymore.

These triggers all require a lot of forethought, though — you have to remember that you need to remember something in the first place.

For a lot of tasks, the best reminder is one that’s completely automated — you set it up and then forget about it, trusting the trigger to pop up when you need it.

How to Make a Reminder Works for You

Computers and ubiquity of mobile Internet-connected devices make it possible to set up automatic triggers for just about anything.

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Desktop software like Outlook will pop up reminders on your desktop screen, and most online services go an extra step and send reminders via email or SMS text message — just the thing to keep you on track. Sandy, for example, just does automatic reminders.

Automated reminders can help you build habits — but it can also help you remember things that are too important to be trusted even to habit. Diabetics who need to take their insulin, HIV patients whose medication must be taken at an exact time in a precise order, phone calls that have to be made exactly on time, and other crucial events require triggers even when the habit is already in place.

My advice is to set reminders for just about everything — have them sent to your mobile phone in some way (either through a built-in calendar or an online service that sends updates) so you never have to think about it — and never have to worry about forgetting.

Your weekly review is a good time to enter new reminders for the coming weeks or months. I simply don’t want to think about what I’m supposed to be doing; I want to be reminded so I can think just about actually doing it.

I tend to use my calendar for reminders, mostly, though I do like Sandy quite a bit.

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Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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Reference

[1] Getting Things Done: Trusted System

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