Inbox Mastery, Part One

Email DOES NOT Control You

I Should Have Brought My Cutters That Day by Jeremy Brooks, on Flickr

I used to think that keeping my finger on the pulse of my inbox was a way of exercising total control, being on top of my email game. I was wrong. In fact, it's the exact opposite. Answering to my inbox's every beck and call simply demonstrates that email has control over me. "Keeping my finger on the pulse of my inbox" turned into a compulsion that required me to read everything the second it was thrown at me, but because it was more often than not a bad time to respond, I would leave it to go stale in my inbox to be addressed at my convenience.

But here's the rub: convenience was hard to find, and my brain would think that reading the email the second it arrived meant that I had already dealt with it. The mental priority level automatically downgraded, and I often left it far too long before taking action. I have a feeling I'm not alone, and I'm here to tell you it's time for that to change. But first, some key principles.

You CAN Take Control

Ciber Cafe by larskflem, on Flickr

"I have 2,437 unread messages."

You can take control. But guess what? You're not going to read them all. You haven't yet, and you never will if you keep things going like this. Let me help.

"I don't want to use the Archive feature because I might want to find emails later."

Um, it's Google. You can search for them! Not wanting to utilize this key feature is a manifestation of feeling like you are out of control. You can take control. Let me help.

"I feel guilty about responding to people who have emailed me a month ago."

Get over it. If they haven't tried to contact you again, then they've already given up on you. But you can take control going forward. Let me help.

"What if I get a high-priority message and have to act on it right away?"

If it was really that high of a priority, the sender would have contacted you another way. You can take control. Let me help.

"I have five email accounts and I don't know where to start."

So do I. Start with one and go from there. You can take control. Let me help.

"I think I'm just going to declare email bankruptcy. My friend did it."

STOP right there. Don't do it. Declaring email bankruptcy—deleting everything in your inbox and sending a blind copy to all your contacts to let them know what you've done—is irresponsible and ineffective. Doing so sends the message to your contacts that they are not worth your time and shows them how you deal with problems. You can take control. Let me help.

Email SHOULD NOT be painful.

eMail by Esparta, on Flickr

When you check your email, you should be excited. Who is communicating with me today? What can I do to help them? Email is efficient, speedy, and much less time-consuming than more old-fashioned methods, and it's enabled us to work in a much higher volume than in the past. Think back briefly to the time when all we had were phones, memos, and meetings. Imagine that the number of emails you received in a day were actually phone calls, memos, and meetings. My day-to-day work would be exhausting just trying to keep up with it all, and I'd never accomplish anything.

"Do not live inside your inbox." —Merlin Mann

What does your inbox look like?

Next time, we'll look at what some others have said about Inbox Mastery, how achieving mastery in this arena can help you achieve mastery elsewhere, and how to prepare for a life-changing shift in the way you view your inbox. This requires embracing some left-brained principles. It's going to be fun! Keep reading with Part Two.