More Writing (Less Emailing)

BRAIDCREATIVE:SEPT2013J_10

It’s obvious that since having a baby my time has been spread thin. It truly is a balance – a give and take. If I put energy and time into one thing, it usually means I’m not going to be able to give my attention to something else. Prioritizing is a skill I’m learning to hone.

In order here are the things that are important to me:
• HOME // Jeremy, Fox, cooking good food, weekends with our family
• WORKING OUT // weightlifting, yoga, barre3, cardio, long walks
• WORK // coaching, client meetings, blogging (here and at Braid), letter writing
• FRIENDS // book clubs, coffee dates, dinner parties

Nowhere on that list is emailing, yet I probably spend a good 75% of my work time tending to emails. Granted, some of this is creative direction to my team, interviews for blog features, or follow-up emails with my one-on-one clients. But more often then not it’s reactionary requests – and I can’t help but respond immediately because it gives me instant gratification of feeling productive. But it’s really not.

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There are lots of articles out there on how to manage your inbox. Here are a couple of my favorites:
• Alexandra Franzen – she writes the BEST scripts for responding to tricky situations – from conflict resolution, to saying no, to how to respond to emails no one wants to receive. I’ve used her scripts almost word-for-word and they are magic.
Zen Habits – Leo Babatua is my favorite online minimalist and I love reading his email habits.

Okay, so reading about how to manage your email is great and all. But putting it into practice is another thing. The thing is, I need to spend less time emailing so I can spend more time blogging. Writing feeds my soul. Responding doesn’t. Writing reaches more people at once. Responding only helps one person at a time – and while that’s worthy I have big demanding dreams of my own that need to be tended to right now.

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So here’s some new practices (and it will take practice, I’m sure) that I would like to try in order to spend less time emailing and more time writing:
• Write first thing in the morning – BEFORE I check my email.
• Turn off email push-notifications on my phone
• Check email twice a day and that’s it / block off time just for emailing. (I think this will be hard!)
• Have business inquiries and requests go straight to my employees to respond to
• Limit my emails to just two or three sentences. My biggest fear is being misunderstood (especially in tone) and brevity in email can often feel cold … but I think I’ll be doing myself and the person on the other side a favor by being brief. I might even add a little explanation for brevity in my footer.
• Stop responding to emails that don’t really need a response. For example, I send out a lot of one word “Thanks!” emails.

Do you have any other ideas for managing email? What are some tactics that work for you?

  1. Ricarda

    I’ve been doing the check-twice-a-day thing for a while now and what has helped me a lot was to have a place for the stuff that comes in.

    So, say, I receive an email with ideas/instructions/attachments for something that I’m working on, rather than leaving my mail program open to re-read the email while working on the project, I copy the mail into Evernote (a simple text document would do as well) and download + file all attachments.

    That way I can really batch my way through all messages + then close the software + then get to work.

    Good luck – it really helps!

  2. Carrie

    In addition to the things you listed, I find the ToDoist gmail plugin and Evernote web clipper to be great for keeping my inbox zeroed, and giving me peace of mind.

    I loosely use the Get Things Done method to categorize my emails. In ToDoist I have a projects set up for each client as well as life stuff (finances, food, health, car, family etc..) Any email that needs to be responded to, or requires action on my part is converted into a Task simply by by clicking the ToDoist button. ToDoist creates a link back to the original email, so you can hit Archive and not look at it in your inbox anymore, but know that it is accounted for and queued up for action.

    If it is an email that is just informative or a good resource or whatever, I have Evernote set up in a similar fashion.I use the web clipper to file it away into the right notebook for future reference. Hit Archive, and TADA inbox ZERO.

    I took this Skillshare class and adapted his method to fit my workflow. His approach was a bit intense and rigid for my needs, but the framework was great. http://www.skillshare.com/classes/design/Get-Stuff-Done-Like-A-Boss-Design-Your-Workflow-and-Double-Your-Productivity-in-21-Days/1524940083?via=search

    • Just switched to ToDoist and excited to try the Gmail plugin – thanks for the tip off!

  3. jensen

    Setting aside specific times to check email is probably the best thing I’ve ever done. For work, I check once when I get into the office and then again after lunch and a brief scan just before leaving in case anything immediate needs to be taken care of. I usually use my commute home to check/respond to personal emails (public transportation, for the win!) And I have a similar workflow to Carrie where I archive/todo list/color code immediately, which also helps to make things feel less overwhelming.

    It may also be helpful to put a note in your signature about only checking your email twice a day, so that you avoid the “UHHH ARE YOU IGNORING ME” emails as everyone gets used to your transition :)

  4. Stacia

    I spend too much time responding to emails, too. I’m going to start scheduling an email response time into my day. For instance, 11am might be email time and I can respond to as many as I would like (even work my way down to inbox 0 – though I can’t respond to any emails that come in after I start) and then I’m done for the day. The rest of the emails can wait until tomorrow. (Except in the rare case that it’s urgent, but, honestly, how often do we get those?) I’m going to see if that works for me and my work flow. I hope it does!

  5. Monique

    I work in a 300+ person organization that is *addicted* to email, and get phone calls if I don’t respond to emails within the hour! It’s super annoying because it is a huge time suck. I occasionally joke that I respond to emails for a living when asked “what do you do.” I am sticking to my guns though and, slowly but surely, people are either solving the issue themselves (YES!!!!), or have realized their query is not urgent. (I am mid-level management, I don’t know if I would have had the cojones to do this as a junior person).

    Something small that has saved time for me and made me generally less cranky about email is to stop writing out greetings and good-byes where possible. So no more “Hi Kathleen/Cheers, Monique.” I was worried it would come off as a bit harsh, but I’ve had no negative feedback to date (at least… to my face!). It is especially useful when just responding to email (a bit more awkward when you are the initiator but it still seems to work in most cases. I still write it out when approaching people formally or those who I’ve never met before).

    In writing this out it, I’m worried it makes me look pretty bitchy… but try it! It’s not that bad! :)

  6. Ah yes, the email struggle. I love Alexandra Franzen’s push for brevity and directness, and have been REALLY trying to go in that direction.

    I don’t work with a team yet, but if/when I do, I’m considering a project-management system (like Basecamp or Asana) that allows team members to comment within that framework instead of sending emails. That way, I only have to check those kinds of messages (questions about what to do next, etc.) when I’m ready and know that what’s in my inbox is other stuff.

    I also have a Filtered folder where all newsletter-type emails are sent, and a Twitter folder (I’m sure you can guess what that’s for), and I only check them when I need to (usually once for Filtered, twice for Twitter).

    I do think you guys do a great job of answering questions up front in the info you send out, so there’s a step in the right direction! Good luck. :)

  7. A bit off topic, but I’m always amazed by your photos and the plants on the tables. My kitties just WON’T let me have small plants around the house. They make sure to throw all and any jars on the floor… and then just stare at it. =/

  8. Great post – love reading about techniques to create more disciple with things like emails which really offer not great joy. I like the idea of creating a routine that minimise this email time so we can focus on the areas that are really important. Great links included, thanks :)

  9. Remember in 1991 when you’d be all excited that you had that “You’ve got mail!” pop up? There was even a movie about it for Pete’s sake. We loved email. Then…email bit us in the ass. Love/hate email.

    This is actually one of the most common things I discuss with clients – and everyone’s solution to the problemo is different. As with anything, a system is only as good as the person who actually uses it so it’s important to setup something you will use.

    One I use (and that many of my peeps have taken on as well) is outlined here: http://www.aspireandgrow.com/how-to-have-less-email-in-your-inbox-for-free/

    Kathleen: for serious, I would be happy to chat through what will work for you and what won’t work for you any time. As a new momma myself, I know that time is beyond precious and sometimes it saves time to talk it out instead of trying it out, ya know? I’m here for ya.

  10. Pingback: Links on Links: Overwhelm, a Creativity Reboot & Regrowing Food - Jaybird

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