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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 16, 2019

Invaluable Lessons You Can Learn From Your Mistakes

Invaluable Lessons You Can Learn From Your Mistakes

Do you like making mistakes?

I certainly don’t.

Making mistakes is inevitable. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could be at ease with them?

Perhaps there is a way to think of them differently and see their benefits.

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Why Mistakes Feel Dangerous

Mistakes often feel dangerous. Throughout human history, our errors have often been treated as dangerous for a variety of reasons:

  • Our vulnerability. We have limited and fragile support systems. When those systems fail, people often lose their lives.
  • Real dangers. Nature can be dangerous, and making mistakes can put us at the mercy of nature and its animal residents seeking a meal.
  • Ignorance. Many cultures scapegoats someone whenever there is a failure of some kind. Scapegoating can be serious and deadly.
  • Order. Many societies punish those who do not conform to the prevailing orthodoxy and treat difference and non-conformity as a mistake. Even our brains flash an error message whenever we go against prevailing social norms.

We have a history of handling mistakes and failure in an unpleasant way. Since each of us carries our human history with us, it can be a challenge to overcome the fear of making mistakes.

If we can embrace the reality of mistakes, we can free ourselves to be more creative in our lives and dig up some interesting insights.

Why We Can’t Avoid Making Mistakes

Many people operate under the notion that making mistakes is an aberration, a mistake if you will. You can call it perfectionism but it is a more substantial problem. It is really a demand for order and continuity.

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When we think we can eliminate mistakes, we are often working from a perspective that sees the world as a fixed place. The world, however, is not so obliging. Like it or not, the world, and everything in it, is constantly changing.

Change is more constant and pervasive than we can see with our own eyes which is why we often miss it. Our bodies are constantly changing. The natural conditions of the earth change constantly as well. Everything, including economic and cultural systems have life cycles. Everything is in a constant state of flux.

We cannot see all of the changes going on around us since rates of change vary. Unfortunately, when we try to create a feeling of certainty and solidity in our lives or operate from the illusion of stability and order, we are fighting reality and our natural evolution which is built on adapting to change.

It is better to continually bend into this reality rather than fight every change we experience. Fighting it can cause us to make more mistakes. Finding the benefits in change can be useful and help us minimize unnecessary mistakes.

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Lessons Learned from Making Mistakes

Life has so many uncertainties and variables that mistakes are inevitable. Fortunately, there are many things you can learn from making mistakes.

Here is a list of ways to harness the mistakes you make for your benefit.

  1. Point us to something we did not know.
  2. Reveal a nuance we missed.
  3. Deepen our knowledge.
  4. Tell us something about our skill levels.
  5. Help us see what matters and what does not.
  6. Inform us more about our values.
  7. Teach us more about others.
  8. Let us recognize changing circumstances.
  9. Show us when someone else has changed.
  10. Keep us connected to what works and what doesn’t work.
  11. Remind us of our humanity.
  12. Spur us to want to better work which helps us all.
  13. Promote compassion for ourselves and others.
  14. Teach us to value forgiveness.
  15. Help us to pace ourselves better.
  16. Invite us to better choices.
  17. Can teach us how to experiment.
  18. Can reveal a new insight.
  19. Can suggest new options we had not considered.
  20. Can serve as a warning.
  21. Show us hidden fault lines in our lives which can lead us to more productive arrangements.
  22. Point out structural problems in our lives.
  23. Prompt us to learn more about ourselves.
  24. Remind us how we are like others.
  25. Make us more humble.
  26. Help us rectify injustices in our lives.
  27. Show us where to create more balance in our lives.
  28. Tell us when the time to move on has occurred.
  29. Reveal where our passion is and where it is not.
  30. Expose our true feelings.
  31. Bring out problems in a relationship.
  32. Can be a red flag for our misjudgments.
  33. Point us in a more creative direction.
  34. Show us when we are not listening.
  35. Wake us up to our authentic selves.
  36. Can create distance with someone else.
  37. Slow us down when we need to.
  38. Can hasten change.
  39. Reveal our blind spots.
  40. Are the invisible made visible.

Reframe Reality to Handle Mistakes More Easily

The secret to handling mistakes is to:

  • Expect them as part of the process of growth and development.
  • Have an experimental mindset.
  • Think in evolutional rather than fixed terms.

When we accept change as the natural structure of the world, our vulnerability and humanness lets us work with the ebb and flow of life.

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When we recognize the inevitability of mistakes as part of the ongoing experiment which life is, then we can relax more. In doing so we may make fewer of them.

It also helps to keep in mind that trial and error is an organic natural way of living. It is how we have evolved over time. It is better to be with our natural evolution than to fight it and make life harder.

When we adopt an evolutional mindset and see ourselves as part of the ongoing human experiment, we can appreciate that all that has been built up over time which includes the many mistakes our ancestors have made over thousands of years. Each one of us today is a part of that human tradition of learning and experimenting,

Mistakes are part of the trial and error, experimental nature of life. The more you adopt the experimental, evolutional frame, the easier it becomes to handle mistakes.

Handling mistakes well can help you relax and enjoy all aspects of life more.

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Featured photo credit: Sarah Kilian via unsplash.com

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