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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 October 21, 2019

How to Be a Good Leader and Lead Effectively

How to Be a Good Leader and Lead Effectively

U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a contender for the 2020 Democratic nomination, is a reminder of why I am so drawn to leadership as a topic. Whenever I think it is impossible for me to be more impressed with her, she proves me wrong.

Earlier this week, a former marine suggested that he had been in a long-term sexual relationship with the Senator. She flipped the narrative and used the term “Cougar,” a term used to describe older women who date younger men, to reference her alma mater.

Rather than calling the young man a liar, or responding to the accusations in kind, she re-focused the conversation back to her message of college affordability and lifted up that “Cougar” was the mascot for her alma mater. She went on to note that tuition at her school was just $50 per semester when she was a student. Class act.

But by the end of the week, news broke that U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, another contender for the presidency, had a heart attack. Warren not only wished Sanders a speedy recovery but her campaign sent a meal to his staff. She knew that the hopes of staff, donors and supporters were with the Senator from Vermont and showed genuine compassion and empathy.

To me, she has proven time and time again that she is more than a presidential candidate: she belongs in a leadership hall of fame.

What makes some people excel as leaders is fascinating. You can read about leadership, research it and talk about it, yet the interest in leadership alone will not make you a better leader.

You will have more information than the average person, but becoming a good leader is lifelong work. It requires experience – and lots of it. Most importantly, it requires observation and a commitment to action. Warren observed what was happening with Sen. Sanders, empathized with his team and then took action. Regardless of the outcome of this election, Sanders’ staff will likely never forget her gesture.

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You would have had to work on a political campaign in order to appreciate the stress and anxiety that comes with it. In this moment, staff may not remember everything that Warren said throughout the lengthy campaign, but they will remember what she did during an unforgettable time during the campaign.

If this model of leadership is appealing, and if you are searching for how to up your own leadership game, read on for six characteristics that good leaders share:

1. Good leaders are devoted to the success of the people around them.

Good leaders are not self-interested. Sure, they want to succeed, but they also want others to succeed.

Good leaders see investing in others just as important as they see investing in themselves. They understand that their success is closely tied to the people around them, and they work to ensure that their peers, employees, friends and family have paths for growth and development.

While the leaders may be the people in the spotlight, they are quick to point to the people around them who helped them (the leaders) enter that spotlight. Their willingness to lift others inspires their colleagues’ and friends’ devotion and loyalty.

2. Good leaders are not overly dependent on others’ approval.

It is important for managers to express their support for their teams; good leaders must be independent of the approval of others. I explained in an article for The Chronicle of Philanthropy, that:[1]

“While a desire to be loved is natural, managers who prioritize approval from subordinates will become ineffective supervisors who may do employees harm. For example, a manager driven by a need for approval may shy away from delivering constructive feedback that could help an employee improve. A manager fearful of upsetting someone may tolerate behavior that degrades the work environment and culture.”

In yet another example, a manager who is dependent on the approval of others may not make decisions that could be deemed unpopular in the short run but necessary in the long run.

Think of the coaches who integrated their sporting teams. Their decision to do so, may have seemed odd, and even wrong, in the moment, but time has proven that those leaders were on the right side of history.

3. Good leaders have the capacity to share the spotlight.

Attention is nice, but it is not the prime motivator for good leaders. Doing a good job is.

For this reason, good leaders are willing to share the spotlight. They aren’t threatened by a lack of attention, and they do not need credit for every accomplishment. They are too focused on their goal and too focused on the urgency of their work.

4. Good leaders are students.

In the same way that human beings are constantly evolving, so too are leaders. As long as you are living, you have the potential to learn. It doesn’t matter how much knowledge you think you have; you can always learn something new.

I have the experience of thinking I was doing everything right as a manager, only to receive conflicting feedback from my team. Perhaps my approach was not working for my team, and I had to be willing to hear their feedback to improve.

Good leaders understand that their secret sauce is their willingness to keep receiving information and keep learning. They aren’t intimidated by what they do not know: As long as they maintain a willingness to keep growing, they believe they can overcome any obstacle they face.

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As both masters and students, good leaders read, listen and study to grow. They consume content for information, not just entertainment purposes. They aren’t impressed with their knowledge; they are impressed with the learning journey.

5. Good leaders view vulnerability as a superpower.

It means “replacing ‘professional distance and cool,’ with uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure,” said Emma Sappala in a Dec. 11, 2014, article, “What Bosses Gain by being Vulnerable” for Harvard Business Journal.[2] She went on to note the importance of human connection, which she asserts is often missing at work.

“As leaders and employees, we are often taught to keep a distance and project a certain image. An image of confidence, competence and authority. We may disclose our vulnerability to a spouse or close friend behind closed doors at night but we would never show it elsewhere during the day, let alone at work.”

This rings so true for me as a woman leader. I was raised believing that any show of emotion in the workplace could be used against me. I was raised believing that it was best for women leaders to be stoic and to “never let ‘em see you sweat.” This may have prevented me from connecting with employees and colleagues on a deeper, more personal level.

6. Good leaders understand themselves.

I am a huge fan of life coach and spiritual teacher Iyanla Vanzant. In addition to her hit show on the OWN network, Vanzant has authored dozens of books. In her books and teachings, she underscores the importance of knowing ourselves fully. She argues that we must know what makes us tick, what makes us happy and what makes us angry.

Self-awareness enables us to put ourselves in situations where we can thrive, and it also enables us to have compassion when we fall short of the goals and expectations we have for ourselves. Relatedly, understanding ourselves will allow us to know our strength. When we know our strengths, we will be able to put people around us who compliment our strengths and fill the gaps in our leadership.

Final Thoughts

Being a good leader, first and foremost, is an inside job. You must focus on growing as a person regardless of the leadership title that you hold. You cannot take others where you yourself have not been. So focusing on yourself, regardless of your time or where you are in your career will have long term benefits for you and the people around you.

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Further, if you want to become a good leader, you should start by setting the intention to do so. What you focus on grows. If you focus on becoming a better leader, you will research and invest in things that help you to fulfill this intention. You will also view the good and bad leadership experiences as steppingstones that hone your character and help you improve.

After you set the intention, get really clear on what a good leader looks like to you. Each of us has a different understanding of leadership. Is a good leader someone who takes risk? Is a good leader, in your estimation, someone who develops other leaders? Whatever it is, know what you’re shooting for. Once you define what it means to be a good leader, look for people who exemplify your vision. Watch and engage with them if you can.

Finally, understand that becoming a good leader doesn’t happen overnight. You must continually work at improving, investing in yourself and reflecting on what is going well and what you must improve. In this way, every experience is an opportunity to grow and a chance to ask: ‘What is this experience trying to teach me?’ or ‘what action is necessary based on this situation?’

If you are committed to questioning, evaluating and acting, you are that much closer to becoming a better leader.

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Featured photo credit: Sam Power via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] The Chronicle of Philanthropy: Why Good Managers Overcome the Desire to Be Liked
[2] Harvard Business Journal: What Bosses Gain by being Vulnerable

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