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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 September 11, 2019

Why To-Do Lists Don’t Work (And How to Change That)

Why To-Do Lists Don’t Work (And How to Change That)

How often do you feel overwhelmed and disorganized in life, whether at work or home? We all seem to struggle with time management in some area of our life; one of the most common phrases besides “I love you” is “I don’t have time”. Everyone suggests working from a to-do list to start getting your life more organized, but why do these lists also have a negative connotation to them?

Let’s say you have a strong desire to turn this situation around with all your good intentions—you may then take out a piece of paper and pen to start tackling this intangible mess with a to-do list. What usually happens, is that you either get so overwhelmed seeing everything on your list, which leaves you feeling worse than you did before, or you make the list but are completely stuck on how to execute it effectively.

To-do lists can work for you, but if you are not using them effectively, they can actually leave you feeling more disillusioned and stressed than you did before. Think of a filing system: the concept is good, but if you merely file papers away with no structure or system, the filing system will have an adverse effect. It’s the same with to-do lists—you can put one together, but if you don’t do it right, it is a fruitless exercise.

Why Some People Find That General To-Do Lists Don’t Work?

Most people find that general to-do lists don’t work because:

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  • They get so overwhelmed just by looking at all the things they need to do.
  • They don’t know how to prioritize the items on list.
  • They feel that they are continuously adding to their list but not reducing it.
  • There’s a sense of confusion seeing home tasks mixed with work tasks.

Benefits of Using a To-Do List

However, there are many advantages working from a to-do list:

  • You have clarity on what you need to get done.
  • You will feel less stressed because all your ‘to do’s are on paper and out of your mind.
  • It helps you to prioritize your actions.
  • You don’t overlook so many tasks and forget anything.
  • You feel more organized.
  • It helps you with planning.

4 Golden Rules to Make a To-Do List Work

Here are my golden rules for making a “to-do” list work:

1. Categorize

Studies have shown that your brain gets overwhelmed when it sees a list of 7 or 8 options; it wants to shut down.[1] For this reason, you need to work from different lists. Separate them into different categories and don’t have more than 7 or 8 tasks on each one.

It might work well for you to have a “project” list, a “follow-up” list, and a “don’t forget” list; you will know what will work best for you, as these titles will be different for everybody.

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2. Add Estimations

You don’t merely need to know what has to be done, but how long it will take as well in order to plan effectively.

Imagine on your list you have one task that will take 30 minutes, another that could take 1 hour, and another that could take 4 hours. You need to know the moment you look at the task, otherwise you undermine your planning, so add an extra column to your list and include your estimation of how long you think the task will take, and be realistic!

Tip: If you find it a challenge to estimate accurately, then start by building this skill on a daily basis. Estimate how long it will take to get ready, cook dinner, go for a walk, etc., and then compare this to the actual time it took you. You will start to get more accurate in your estimations.

3. Prioritize

To effectively select what you should work on, you need to take into consideration: priority, sequence and estimated time. Add another column to your list for priority. Divide your tasks into four categories:

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  • Important and urgent
  • Not urgent but important
  • Not important but urgent
  • Not important or urgent

You want to work on tasks that are urgent and important of course, but also, select some tasks that are important and not urgent. Why? Because these tasks are normally related to long-term goals, and when you only work on tasks that are urgent and important, you’ll feel like your day is spent putting out fires. You’ll end up neglecting other important areas which most often end up having negative consequences.

Most of your time should be spent on the first two categories.

4.  Review

To make this list work effectively for you, it needs to become a daily tool that you use to manage your time and you review it regularly. There is no point in only having the list to record everything that you need to do, but you don’t utilize it as part of your bigger time management plan.

For example: At the end of every week, review the list and use it to plan the week ahead. Select what you want to work on taking into consideration priority, time and sequence and then schedule these items into your calendar. Golden rule in planning: don’t schedule more than 75% of your time.

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Bottom Line

So grab a pen and paper and give yourself the gift of a calm and clear mind by unloading everything in there and onto a list as now, you have all the tools you need for it to work. Knowledge is useless unless it is applied—how badly do you want more time?

To your success!

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Featured photo credit: Emma Matthews via unsplash.com

Reference

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