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Advanced E-mail Strategies: Getting your Inbox to 0 — Part 2

Are you overwhelmed by emails? I sure have been. In the past four years it seems that just answering email has become a full time job for me. Yet, because of that and because of personally coaching top managers and leaders with the same problem I have learned a lot about how to truly manage email efficiently. If you’re struggling with getting your inbox to 0, I’d suggest that you read about The Scan and Flip Technique and read Part 1 of my Advanced Email Strategies. Also, here are 10 more ideas for winning the sometimes dreaded battle of email jail.

  1.  Air Mail. This is a no brainer. One time we get off-track with email is when we travel. Yet, your time on the airplane can be some of the most productive email crush time you ever get! And it’s great because you automatically will be working offline which is what you should be doing when playing catch up anyways. The one item you need to make this work is a laptop power cord that plugs into a lighter adapter. That is one big reason why I only fly American Airlines, because most of their planes have lighter power adapters in every seat. You can get a universal laptop power cord from iGO or a company like that for $150. It will save you a hundred hours in email time your first year by having your laptop powered on the flight from SFO to Laguardia. Well worth the investment. Buy it.
  2. Email Rush Hour. No, I don’t mean check your email while you’re sitting in rush hour! Trust me it only takes one car accident with a cow to help you realize you always need to keep your hands on the wheel and eyes on the road.  What I mean, though, is pay attention to when you get the most email. I.E., What days? What times of the day? Etc. For me I know that Mondays are incredibly high traffic email days, Thursdays also are big occasionally. So intentionally set fewer in-person meetings on heavy email traffic days. Prepare in advance by leaving flexibility in your schedule for those days. A related part of this strategy is to schedule “Email Time” longer and immediately following traditionally high volume email times. This is a great strategy that works wonders for your stress levels and for staying peaceful. (FYI — you can use free services like to tell you when you get the most emails and from who.)
  3. Email Time. You schedule time to go to the gym, to sit in unproductive meetings, to meet people for appointments, and to do fun family stuff, so why not schedule time to catch up on email? If you have a personal assistant (which you definitely should if you’ve read this far on how to keep up with email), then have them block time in your calendar for this. Maybe 90 minutes a day, or every other day or something. One of the biggest complaints I hear from people is they work all day and are in meetings all day and then have an entire day full of office work they didn’t get to. Schedule that office work as a meeting. If someone requests to meet with you during that time tell them you have a meeting. You do! You have an email/office work/project time meeting (and since you’ll be using the Scan and Flip technique you’ll be working offline anyways so they won’t know if you passed up on a meeting with them to be managing email because they won’t get those emails from you because you won’t be online). Email is work.  Of course it shouldn’t happen during prime time hours but that doesn’t mean it should be at dinner time every night, either. Schedule it. I find it takes me about one focused hour per 65 emails. So having 5:00–6:30 p.m. blocked off in a day can get a lot done.
  4. Work Night. Now that I’ve coached some of the top performing salespeople and managers in the country over the last couple years I can confidently say that almost all of them have at least one night a week where they work. Having one night a week can mean so much to your happiness and your effectiveness. By one night,  I mean completely focused, un-interrupted from 6:00–11:00 p.m. where you knock out a bunch of work. Many of these people, myself included, started with two or three work nights a week plus a Saturday morning, and a Sunday night and then have put systems in place like virtual assistants, etc. to cut it back down to one night. Of course, this depends on your family but you’ll be a much more pleasant family member if you have at least some time to get your office stuff done and caught up. I’m not a fan of workaholism but if you are passionate about succeeding at any pursuit you have to make sacrifices with your time to make it happen. You don’t have to do it forever but you do have to do it to get to a certain point.
  5. Bed Time.  An unfortunately true statement that I recently heard from an ultra performer was, “The one time nobody really misses me is when they are sleeping.” Traditionally I have been a late night person but now that I’m married I make a point to go to bed whenever my wife goes to bed. However, I have started waking up on some days much earlier and just slip out of bed and work for a couple hours before she wakes up. There is an old Chinese proverb that says something like, “A man who rises before the sun never fails to make his family rich.”
  6. Inbox Assistant. Without a doubt, the most life-changing thing for me in the last two years both personally and professionally is my partnership with my Chief Executive Assistant, Melody. She has learned to think like me and process emails the way I would process them when I am not around to do it myself. The way it happened was from me training her exactly what the standard operating procedure (SOP) was for each type of email. Now she can control my inbox significantly just by eliminating several emails that fall into a certain type or classification. For more on this see Working with Virtual Assistants.
  7. Call Schedule. Pay attention to the people who send you the most emails. You can do this either by eye balling it or by using xobni but there are some people who use email more like instant messenger. And they are always Johnny-on-the-spot checking email constantly and getting right back to you. If there is someone like this, don’t get into playing email tennis with them because I’ve found I always lose. They always respond more frequently than I do. Instead, schedule regular calls with high traffic email people and you’ll find they stop emailing you as much and start saving the topics until your next call.
  8. Inbox Agenda. Similar to the Call Schedule technique, look for people who are emailing you frequently and I know this will sound weird but schedule a real life, person-to-person, human interaction, live, PHONE CALL! Email is great for communicating small bits of information while allowing you to prioritize the response order but it’s not good for large bits of information. A 5-minute phone call can often accomplish more than an email that takes you 20 minutes to type. And rather than responding to their emails, paste their emails into the meeting request on Outlook (or write them down on a sheet of paper) and make that the agenda for your call with them. It gives such amazing structure and purpose to the calls when you can just go “okay the first email you sent was…, the second was….” Similarly, look through your inbox for Related Topics and Themes of different types of emails and schedule one conference call with the required parties to knock it all out. For example, once we hired a bunch of assistants I found that they were processing many of the emails that I would normally be getting but then I started getting a bunch of emails from all the assistants. Now we have a call once per week with all the assistants and we cover all of those types of questions all at once. Then they all get informed and start training each other. Look for mini-teams or sub-groups of people who are all sending emails about a required topic and turn that into a 20-minute conference call.
  9. SOP. Create standard operating procedures at least in your mind, and preferably on paper, about how you process certain types of emails (friend requests, calendar requests, ezines you are subscribe to, regular weekly emails from corporate, any other regular recurring emails, spam, etc.). That way you get in the habit of knocking those out quickly and also when you get an assistant you can give them detailed instructions about how to process them and they can start doing it for you.
  10. Search and Destroy. This is another catch-up strategy that ties in with The Scan and Flip Technique. The way this works is that after you have done your initial Scan and knocked out the quick and easy emails then take the remaining pile and search for emails that are all similar in nature or in topic. For example, I get three HARO emails every day. Often two or three days go by without me looking at them and so when catch-up time rolls around I’ll do a search for all of those and pull all of them up at once and just tackle those items. Or if I have separate email strings going on with different people but about the same topic I will search for the key term and then respond to multiple parties all CC’d on the same email all at once.

If you are a high performing person, or a person who works with a lot of people, then I don’t think there is a full solution for never getting email again. But these, and other strategies like these can help to make email a functioning, manageable part of your life; rather than just making email your whole life! Like so many, I’ve been heavily influenced in this area by an acquaintance of mine, Timothy Ferriss. His best-selling book, The 4-Hour Workweek has been the subject of much controversy in the business community. Working 4 hours a week may not be realistic for most driven professionals but the concepts about efficiency that he promotes are brilliant and relevant to us all. Much of what is written here has come from being programmed with some of his strategies and philosophies about managing minutiae. Hope they help you and please leave ideas that you have in addition to what is posted here.

See you in the stairwell,

Rory Vaden
Take the Stairs – Success means doing things you don’t want to do

  • Don

    Thanks Rory. These are some great tips. When you break the information down like that, it is actually very much just common sense, however, for some reason, we need these things pointed out to us so that we can see them.

    I can see a light at the bottom of my inbox!

    Thanks for sharing.


  • Pingback: Advanced E-mail Strategies: Getting your Inbox to 0 — Part 2 | by Rory Vaden « Act To Be()

  • Yeah, I’ve noticed that same thing Don. So much of success and so much of what highly productive, wealthy, etc people do is so simple. And it’s just a matter of articulating those simple concepts that cause us to apply enough intention to them that we then implement things that we’ve always kind of known but not been so deliberate about. It’d be great to hear you say it helped you get to 0! Rory

  • Rory,
    Great techniques!

    I really liked your idea surrounding Email Rush Hour, I still have not identified my rush hours (they all seem like rush hours) but once I nail it down, I think that will really help. Thank ya!
    4 Hour Work Week has been instrumental for me as well 🙂

  • My pleasure. One other thing that I’ve realized is that for every 100 emails we get we should work to only send out around like 25. If every email is responded to then you get into a game of email tennis. I always seem to lose that game. 🙂

  • Barry Hall

    Great post Rory, many thanks – Barry.

  • Andrew Cowell

    Not able to read the two recommended articles:
    . The Scan and Flip Technique
    . Part 1 of my Advanced Email Strategies
    as wordpress says they have been deleted.
    Is it possible to get access to them?

  • Hi Andrew!
    Thank you for your comment! We fixed the links so you should be able to access the articles now. Enjoy! Jennifer (Communication Assistant on behalf of Rory Vaden)

  • Andrew Cowell

    Thanks Jennifer!
    Have been able to read the articles and catch up on the email Strategies.