Don’t tell yourself stories

Posted by Dermot Crowley on 17th April 2017

Do you aspire to get in control of your inbox, but just can’t seem to make the time to get it sorted once and for all?  Maybe you have not really committed to the idea of working from an empty inbox.  Perhaps this is because you are telling yourself stories that are holding you back.

I was in a coaching session with a client this week when this situation arose.  He had completed my training with his team, but several weeks on was still drowning in emails.  He had not made it to zero as he had committed, and was ready to give up and go back to his old, comfortable but unproductive ways.

When we talked about what was stopping him from getting on top of his inbox, he came up with several surface level excuses.  He was busy in meetings most of the day.  He was getting too many emails.  He was not disciplined enough.

Then the real reason came out.  He felt that if he had to turn every email into a scheduled task, it would involve more work than it was worth.  It would be quicker just to deal with the emails as he went, rather than scheduling in tasks for later.  But the truth of the matter was that he was not dealing with them.  He was procrastinating over many, and letting them pile up in his inbox.

You see, his logic makes sense only for the simple emails. That is why I use a ‘2-minute rule’ and deal with the simple emails as I go.  But many of my client’s emails needed ten or fifteen minutes to deal with.  Some even longer.  Some emails he didn’t know what was needed until he had read through them.  But one thing was for sure, they were too dense to deal with in the moment.

The story he was telling himself about the perceived inefficiency of scheduling his emails as tasks was convenient but flawed.  It might apply to the easiest emails he dealt with, but it was not applicable to many of the other priorities that were showing up in his inbox.  Good inbox management is not necessarily about working on every email as you go.  Certainly, for the easier emails, deal with them immediately.  They should not be tasked.  But for the emails that need more time the aim should be to make a decision about what needs to be done, and when, and have them show up in your action management system.  It is about lifting the important actions out of the inbox ‘pile’ and getting them into a focused plan.

While it may feel like it takes a bit more time to process your emails in this way, the truth is that it saves you time in the long run.  How much time do we waste touching and retouching the same emails, leaving things until they are urgent, or simply forgetting about critical emails altogether?  Stressful and ineffective!

So, if you’re struggling to get to inbox zero on a regular basis, what stories might be holding you back?

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