Managing email is one of the most difficult pieces of working in today’s always-on, constantly-connected world.
When I worked in a corporate environment, I checked my email so much I once got in a car accident because I was distracted by the very “ping” on my phone.
Once that happened, it was a wakeup call. I realized I couldn’t go on that way and figured out the best way to create a system that worked for me instead of against me -- allowing me to give my employers my best work, not just my fastest answer.
And now, as an entrepreneur with a team of my own, I’ve put solid business boundaries in place to keep everyone connected, consistent and safe.
Email culture in America is a problem -- it is driven by a generation that is afraid of losing its’ foothold in the fast lane due to their disdain for technology and their fear of the future. A sad fact, but one that is quite true. Many of the “bosses” didn’t have computers in their home before pre-school and now? Now they’re faced with teams of people who had cell phones in grammar school.
This is not a fact to be feared, it is a fact to embrace -- it allows the next generation of worker to be connected in a way that works BEST for them. And if you haven’t realized it as an entrepreneur, boss or C-suite executive, having your employees work in an environment that they like IS better for business, every, single time.
When I got in the car accident, I was fresh out of school. I had worked for two years in a magazine newsroom and I knew the deal -- stay connected, be the first with the right answer and BOOM. You’d get the stories, the bylines and the traffic. Working as a local reporter for a hyperlocal site, I learned that it was even MORE important to be first. The unfortunate part of that was that my mind never really had time to recover, which is how I found myself distracted by a ding that shouldn’t have meant anything.
I handled this with a 3-part system that I still use to this day, nearly a decade later.
Clean Slate, Clean Brain
Even though my business is focused on providing digital media content, strategy and management for brands of all shapes and sizes, I do not check social media the moment I open my eyes. Nor do I check my email. I wait until after I workout to check my email. I wake up between 5 and 6 every morning and start with a bit of moving meditation on my way to my daily workout (generally, SoulCycle) and then I let my mind wander in class as I dance it out. When your body is occupied, your mind has a chance to roam, wild and free. That’s the kind of creativity I want from myself AND my team (and my clients; but that’s a post for another day). I then come home and write 3 things I want the Universe/God/The Other to handle. Things that are on my mind but that I don’t have the solution to just yet. These things are in my personal and professional life and once I write them out, my mind is free to wander back to the task at hand. I then write down my top 3 goals for the day, for each segment of my company, long-range career aspirations and my personal life. Yes, sometimes it is as simple as “get a manicure” and other times it’s much more complex, but again, writing these items down day after day allows me to find the focus I need to succeed. Focus that can then be turned to my (highly organized) inbox.
Folders for Days
I have a folder in each of my inboxes -- business and personal -- for every year. Inside those folders are larger categories like Apartment, Client, Expenses, Household, etc. You get the idea. It allows me to keep track of items in my inbox AND file things for later. I do this with my desktop as well. How many times do you download something and lose it? Create a To Be Filed Folder on your desktop and that problem will be solved. Block time each Friday (or Monday, depending on how YOUR week works) to manage this To Be Filed Folder. You can also break that down with a stop light system (Red for emergencies, Yellow for medium priority and Green for evergreen) to help you stay on task.
I dive into my email at the end of every other 45 minute cycle I have during the day. I work in 45-minute sprints (calls too) and then I take 15 minutes to project manage my emails, Basecamp and any other services (like Voxer) that I’m using to communicate with my clients and team at the moment. These 15 minute springs alternate between a quick walk and email checks to allow me to keep my eyes safe too… because if you look at devices for too long, that becomes a problem you can’t solve.
How Can You Make This Your Own?
Start with figuring out what YOUR ideal time is for checking email. There have been periods in my business where I’ve worked out later in the day and started my 45-15-15 cycle earlier in the day. The most important Business Boundary to set is to keep your phone and brain off work for the first 2-3 hours of the day. Why? Because that allows you to create a routine for yourself that feeds your soul instead of just focusing on how much you can produce in a given period of time.