Manage Your Email So It Doesn’t Manage You

Your email inbox is out of control.

If it’s not, congratulate yourself. You are one of a true minority that can say that.

For most people, we are inundated with emails that come from or are related to:

  • work
  • friends
  • family
  • newsletters
  • ads
  • news
  • invoices and bills
  • deals
  • services you use
  • renewals
  • google alerts
  • tips and insights
  • general notifications
  • spam
  • other

That’s quite a lot, right there.

So what’s a girl (or boy) to do?

Why Should I Minimize Emails?

The main reason is because emails are a huge distraction. It causes us to lose focus on our immediate tasks at hand – the tasks we’ve determined will get us towards our goals.

Somewhere in time, we became addicted to email. It was/is an easy way to communicate.

Then, people (mostly companies) realized it was a great way to market to others. In fact, an email list it’s still promoted as the best way to market to people. Companies give away stuff for free (i.e. guides, newsletters, tips) in exchange for your email. That’s Inbound Marketing, folks.

But I digressed there. Sorry.

The main goal here is to take back some control of your email.

It stands to reason that the less email you receive, the less you feel you have to be constantly checking your emails, thereby putting all the focus in the right place.

Ask a Few Questions to Help Eliminate Email Overload

Some emails you can’t necessarily control easily. I would argue that everything can be minimized or deleted altogether but let’s focus with the emails that aren’t from people you know, be it personal or work.

While I believe that multitasking is mostly a myth, in this case, you can definitely do it.

The next time you find yourself watching a sporting event (especially golf) or The Voice or anything that doesn’t require you to concentrate on every little thing that happens, grab your computer or mobile device and look at all those emails that aren’t from work, friends, and family.

Go back through your emails for the last week. Ask yourself the following questions for each email.

  • Do I really still read this? Sure, 3 years ago, that newsletter may have provided a lot of value. But things change. Does it still bring you value? If not, get rid of it.
  • Did I leave it there to read later? If you left it for later, did you ever go back to it? The problem with later is that it rarely comes. For most people, ‘later’ emails just pile up until you just delete them anyway.
  • Is this a notification for a bill that’s due? If it’s a recurring reminder, stop sending them to yourself. Create a repeating task on your task list like paying bills every xth day of the month. Your email is NOT your task list.
  • Do I get this same information from a different place (i.e. social networks, phone apps)? Cut out redundancies.
  • Do I need to get this at the same frequency as I’m now getting it? Sometimes, you can control how often you receive an alert, deal, tip etc. Back it off and see if that has any effect on your life. After a month or two, you may realize you can delete it completely.

On top of those questions, are there any emails that you tend to delete as soon as they come in? Newsletters are a good example of this.

I had someone suggest that I sign up for a newsletter because they thought it had so much great info. After getting them for over 2 years, I realized I deleted it more often than not. Worse, I felt guilty not reading it. So not only was it clogging up my inbox, it was making me feel bad. Lose-lose.

The Big Finish

As you may know by now, I’m a big believer in purging. I don’t try to live a minimalist lifestyle but I feel everyone can learn a lot by purging.

I’m not saying that emails don’t have value. But you want to make sure they continuously bring you so much value that it’s worth filling up your inbox.

After you do this email purge once, everytime you get one of these types of emails, ask yourself the questions above and if they don’t add value, unsubscribe (or change the frequency) immediately.


Increase your Daily Focus using a Twitter List

Are you a Twitter user?

Are you overwhelmed by your news feed on a daily (or even hourly) basis?

After a long time, I begrudgingly started using Twitter. My profile says I joined in 2008 but it was probably a few years after that when I started to see the benefits.

I wouldn’t tweet myself but I was getting a lot of great information from a lot of different sites. The world was my oyster!

In the middle of last year, I took a step back and realized that I was following about 200 twitter handles. The accounts I was following ranged from my favorite sports teams, to software I use, to random news sites.

My twitter account’s feed was now pumping out more stuff than one could take in, regardless of the short character count allowed.

I was spending more time on Twitter to make sure I wasn’t missing anything important.

I was overwhelmed.

Worse, everything had the same priority. There was no ability to focus on what was important.

Something had to change.

Use a Twitter List to increase your focus on what’s important

My simple solution was this.

Twitter has a feature where you can organize twitter accounts into lists. So I created a list called ‘Focus.’

This new dedicated Twitter Focus list includes only those accounts that I deem important for me to stay current with at a particular point in time.

Those currently include:

  • New software that I’m trying out
  • A few favorite productivity and efficiency accounts
  • Software / tools that I use frequently
  • People that inspire me

As I write this, I now follow a total of 72 tweeters but only have 24 members in my Focus list.

During the course of the day, I only watch that Focus list.

When I have some free time to kill, I will look at my full feed. Perhaps it’s at lunch or in the evening when I’m winding down and relaxing.

Can you do the same?


A Productive Day Starts the Night Before

How many days do you start off struggling to get going?

I’m not talking about getting out of bed. When you finally sit down at your desk, are you one of the few that can just start cranking out productive work?

Do you immediately tackle your Most Important Tasks?

Do you at least tackle some smaller tasks to help build your momentum for the rest of the day?

Or do you find yourself doing stuff while an hour or two go by and you realize you haven’t done anything of significant importance – something that will help to achieve the goals you set out for yourself?

I swear, this tip feels so stupid to even blog about but it may be the easiest thing you can do to make your days more efficient and productive.

The night before, write down the 3 most important things you need to do the following day.

That’s it.

Don’t be Unproductive Paul

I have to admit that even though this is so simple and I’ve known about it for decades, even I’ve forgotten to do it in the past.

And this is what inevitably happens the next morning.

  1. I sit down at my desk
  2. I check my emails and reply to those that seem important
  3. I look at my calendar
  4. I look at my big task list and figure out what things I need to do that day.

An hour or two can easily go by without me tackling the critical items on my task list.

Don’t be like Unproductive Paul. Or worse, Meathead Rob Lowe.

Get a Jump on Your Productive Day

The night before, whether it be right before you leave your office or maybe after dinner before you begin to relax and wind down, write down the 3 most important things you need to do the following day.

In the morning, you’ll waste no time trying to figure it out. It will be clear and hopefully, with purpose. No futzing around.

You also may find that it helps you sleep better.

The reasoning is because now, there’s no uncertainty about what you have to do in the morning. Clarity.

(Please note that I’m not any kind of doctor so I can’t substantiate this claim.)

If you are a downhill parker, then write 2-3 quick tasks to help you get started along with your 3 most important tasks. Just be honest with yourself and make sure they will take less than 30 mins to complete all of them.

If you use some sort of task management system like Omnifocus or Todoist, do a nightly review and flag the critical tasks or make them the priority 1’s for the day.

Lastly, do this even for the weekends. Sure, maybe you aren’t focusing on work but that doesn’t mean you can’t put some quick planning on the great fun you want to have.


2 Different Ways to Increase Productivity

Take a 30 second trip down memory lane with this doozy.

Crazy catchy, isn’t it?

Forget the pure cheese of the commercial, if you were part of the tv watching public back then, you probably have never shaken that jingle.

If you are younger than 20, then sorry that you probably missed that gem. It’s iconic.

So what does that commercial have to do with increasing your productivity?

Well grasshopper, by the end of this post, maybe you’ll be able to take the productivity pebble from my hand.

2 Ways to Increase Your Productivity

As we learn through life, we hear a lot of wisdom. How many of these have you heard?

– Practice makes perfect
– If you love something, set it free
– Don’t eat yellow snow
– Eat that Frog

I read an article recently about a technique to jump start your work day. It’s called ‘Parking Downhill.’

The premise of Parking Downhill is that in the beginning of the day, you work on a few small tasks. It will warm you up for the day, so to speak. You’ll feel some immediate benefits of success and gain some quick momentum.

All of that will help set up a productive day.

This is the opposite of the Brian Tracy method to Eating that Frog.

Tracy espouses to Eat That Frog, a concept where you tackle the most important thing you have to do, first thing.

From his book, he writes:

“Your ‘frog’ is your biggest, most important task, the one you are most likely to procrastinate on if you don’t do something about it now. It is also the one task that can have the greatest positive impact on your life and results at the moment.”

*Please note that there is much more than this concept in the book. It speaks to habits, mental states, discipline and more. A highly recommended read that you can get through in half a day.

So, you are probably asking yourself, “which is the better way?”

Should you be a frog eater or a downhill parker?

How do you become more productive for the entire day?

If you eat that frog, you will be successful. I have no doubt in that.

If you park downhill, you will be succesful. I have no doubt in that either.

To worry about choosing the best method is the unsuccessful solution.

My biggest piece of advice here is not to pigeon-hole yourself into a ‘best’ method. Just think about what feels right that particular morning and go that route.

It should be noted that if you choose a few small tasks, we’re only talking a few things that will take no more than 30 mins in total. Ultimately, you NEED to eat that frog.

Also, let’s make sure you already know what to do for that day by writing down your most important items the night before.

Sing the jingle daily

“Sometimes you feel like a nut, sometimes you don’t.”

Let’s face it, you aren’t the same person every day. I’m not talking about what you have to do, people you need to see, etc.

You feel different all the time.

The power in that slogan isn’t saying that you always like nuts or you always don’t. It implies that you like both but it’s dependent on how you feel at that time.

This weekend, my todo list was huge. The tasks were big and small, important and not important.

On both days, I felt like a downhill parker.

I didn’t fight that feeling. If I tried to force myself into being a frog eater, I would’ve failed. Instead, I got a ton accomplished, big and small.

This morning, I had to crank out this blog post. This was my frog. Today, I was a frog eater and wrote this first, before any of the other tasks on my list.

As with most things, options and choices are your best friend (although I would argue that a 10 page diner menu is my worst enemy).

Hum that jingo every morning.

Get a feel for how you are feeling (weird statement).

Eat that frog or park downhill to increase your daily productivity.