Is Your Inbox Ruling Your Life?

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Some of the most organised and professional people in our industry somehow operate with between 200 and 4000 emails in their Inbox. You’d be amazed at how productive a person can be with so many emails but at any level this kind of Inbox holds a level of distraction every time they touch their computer that is annoying at best and paralyzing at worst. Have you ever got up early to start working on your business and shouted – “I just can’t wait to open my email?”. Where personal productivity is the foundation of a fitness business, email can be a killer.

It is this distraction from something so unimportant as email that is taking clever and productive people away from actionable work in pursuit of more meaningful objectives. Let’s talk a little about the reality of email and a very simple strategy for putting email it its place in favour of actionable work which progresses you towards personal (and therefore professional) success.

Email is often mistaken for work. Sending an email rarely progresses anything actionable in an effective or efficient way. Receiving and reading email wastes more time than it saves particularly in the 21st century when it comes to you on your mobile device. It is more often a tool for incredible procrastination where you can avoid getting an immediate response and therefore not have to continue working on the issue because it is now in someone else’s Inbox and is there problem. The issue for your personal productivity is if you are waiting on a response you have no idea how many emails that person has in their Inbox. If it is 4000 in line before yours, you are going to be waiting a long time or making that futile follow up phone call – “Hi Pete, its Shauna. Hey, did you get my email?”.

Personal productivity is at the heart of success in the fitness industry owing to the high level of self-employed and owner/operator business people. Personal productivity has been defined as “…in its simplest form, completing action.” (McGhee,S. 2005, Take Back Your Life. p.20). Questions about productivity often elicit responses like “getting more done, meeting my objectives more effectively, using my time more wisely and being more proactive not reactive.” However, you can achieve all of this and still not be productive. If this is so, what’s missing?
Again lets defer to the Sally McGhee Bible – Take Back Your Life Using Microsoft Outlook (2005) –  which takes pride of place in many bookshelves and say that what is missing is meaningful objectives, next actions and a balance between this and the other ‘stuff’ that takes up time and altogether is called Your Life. Your email Inbox represents one of life’s most dominant, prolific and (for most people) irritating collection points where information & work seems to pile up at a moment’s notice.
Here are the first and most basic tips for handling email in your daily life which will significantly increase your personal productivity.
1. Set up your computer so your Calendar is the first thing you see, NOT YOUR INBOX.
Your time is always more important than your Inbox. Your Diary / Calendar (whether paper or electronic) is always more important for you to refer to when you wake up in the morning than your Inbox (or any other online messaging service). Knowing what is in your diary first gives you the immediate sense of how much time you are going to have available for other things like processing email. If you look at your Inbox you will see something that either annoys you, startles you or amuses you and you are instantly taken away on a tangent that will easily suck up valuable time you can never get back.
2. Allocate specific times in your diary to process email and stick to them.
 Sure, at first you are going to need longer to process the backlog if you have one but once you are at Inbox Zero, allocate about 30 minutes in the morning and 30 minutes mid-afternoon to look at and process your emails. Start with two hours a day if you think you will need it and then when you get better at processing you can reduce the time to give yourself more time for actionable work. This is the first step in really taking control of when you want to address your Inbox. Hey, and turn off all the visual and audible notifications on your computer too. These are the most distracting features of email software and you wont need them when you are relying on your Diary/Calendar to let you know when it is time to address your Inbox.
3. Process emails into a Categorised Folder Hierarchy under your Inbox.
 At first glance you will be able to hit Delete for over 50% of the email in your Inbox. Delight in the practice and in knowing that you don’t need to keep everything “just in case”. Once you have deleted all the junk, the cc’ed and bcc’ed emails I recommend a series of folders for holding the remaining emails. After 10 years of working on a better information management system I have settled on the following Email Folders which I add to all the different email software programs. Under your Inbox you can Add New Folders and I recommend setting up the following:
  • @Action: Where you put email that will take longer than 2minutes to action and relies on other action (a phone call to someone, online research) before you can respond.
  • @FollowUp/WaitingFor: Where you can put emails you send but have not had a response to or you need to follow up with that person sooner than later. Work being delegated via email ends up here until the job is completed and you have been notified as such.
  • @Read.Review: Where you put email that at first glance is something you are interested in reading but don’t want to be distracted by during email processing time. When you learn the discipline of Daily & Weekly Read.Review time you will always get a chance to read what is in this folder and not have it throw your schedule off track.
Over time your Inbox will only contain information you have not addressed yet (the bold number next to the Inbox). You will find it taking less and less time to (a) read, respond and delete emails that take less than 2 minutes to address; and, (b) drag the remaining emails into the appropriate Folder to be addressed when real actionable work is being done that those emails relate to. Emails do contain important information and should be handled with care but only if they relate to your meaningful objectives or actionable work.
When people talk about not having enough time in a day it is worth wondering how much of their day is taken up trying to deal with email when it could be spent achieving meaningful results with clients, suppliers and your peer network of other fitness business leaders.
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