In a recent New York Times Op-Ed, Adam Grant, the Wharton Business Professor and author of the bestseller 'Give and Take' makes the case that there's no excuse for not returning emails. From his perspective, it's as rude as refusing to make eye contact or acknowledging someone actively trying to get your attention in real life.
Not only that but he cites a recent analysis by Microsoft which purportedly shows that inattentiveness to email is one of the clearest warning signs of an ineffective leader.
It's no surprise that given today's constant need to stay connected we're drowning in email. Although we're starting to see a shift toward a more mindful approach to our work lives and a backlash against the cult of busyness I still see far too many leaders stuck in their inbox struggling to get on top of those seemingly infinite micro-draws of attention.
Here are three things you can do to master your inbox, respond in a timely fashion and make sure you don't fall foul of Professor Grant.
Stop using your inbox as your to-do list.
Using your inbox as a to-do list can be an alluring thing to do. It is, after all, likely to be the most common place that you receive information and as you scroll through the subject lines of your unopened emails you're reminded of the various things you need to do.
Adopting this mindset, however, causes you to view our email responses in the same way as your to-dos, something that needs to get done at a point in time that's convenient for you. As a result, emails slip down the ladder of urgency until eventually, it becomes embarrassing to reply.
So take all the 'actions' out of your to-do list, put them somewhere else and use your inbox as it was intended; one of the most powerful communication tools you have at your disposal.
Unsubscribe from everything.
The majority of unread emails are some combination of marketing, newsletters, and junk. So why have them there in the first place?
For one week commit to unsubscribe from every marketing email, newsletter and automated sales pitch that comes into your inbox. It should take no more than 30 seconds per email. After the week you'll notice that you probably don't miss anything and for those companies you want to truly stay connected with you'll find yourself naturally navigating toward their content and re-subscribing.
This cleans out the noise of your inbox even further, leaving you only with pertinent information and those emails that require a response.
Practice Inbox Zero.
Lastly, begin to practice the art of reducing your inbox to zero. Try to do this every day or, if you can't manage that, at least once a week. That means getting really good at identifying what each email is (information that can be filed away, junk that can be deleted, an action that needs to go on your to-do list or ta-da, something that needs to be responded to) and acting on it accordingly
Get ruthless about touching every email that comes into your inbox as few times as possible. Twice is good, once is even better. If it'll take longer to file the email away and respond later than it would to respond immediately then do that now, otherwise clear off some time in your schedule daily just for responding to emails.
Do these three things and you'll find that not only do you stay on top of your communication but you also create more headspace for focusing on the important things of your job, setting the medium and long term direction of your team and the development of your people.