I have been to email jail, I have freed myself from that unique hell, and I'm here to share my story.
First understand that I tried every email management system known to humankind before completely ditching email. I scheduled daily dedicated email time and committed (and recommitted!) to processing each and every email that entered my inbox. Over the years I read dozens of articles and tip sheets that promised to cure my email overwhelm once and for all.
But none of the email strategies I tried got me anywhere close to Inbox Zero. And as the emails piled up -- along with the guilt of never being able to reply to people as quickly as they seemed to want me to do, I reached a life-altering conclusion. I would win the email game not by managing my email, but by freeing myself of email completely.
Eight weeks into the experiment, I'm astounded with the results. I sleep better and think more deeply about my business. I have more energy to drive forward key strategic growth initiatives that I'd been thinking about for months, but hadn't found the time to address.
If you have ever caught yourself embroiled in a love/hate relationship (or, in my case, a hate/hate relationship) with email, then it's time to ditch the pursuit of Zero Inbox and instead embrace Zero Email. Here's how to do it.
Tap into the true cost of email.
In my experience, email has a proven track record of destroying family time. One evening late spring, while watching my 7-year-old son's soccer practice, I whipped out my phone to check my email. (Why? Because email screams "check me" 24/7.)
Someone had emailed me about an unpleasant issue that needed to be resolved. In the 30 seconds required to scan my email, my former joyful state of watching my kid practice soccer evaporated and I was back in work mode.
But while email can derail otherwise pleasant family evenings, it also takes a major toll on your strategic thinking abilities. Managing email is a reactive exercise: you are responding to other people's agendas.
To lead effectively, you need to spend more time advancing your own vision. All too often, email overload means that you are over-serving the agenda of other people, and under-serving your own goals, timelines, and commitments. Getting very clear on what email overload is actually costing you--in terms of lost family time, productivity and delayed progress on your most important goals--makes you much more likely to ditch it for good.
Study your email trends.
Once I committed to ditching email permanently, I realized I'd need a system to delegate it to someone else. I began by analyzing the specific types of emails I receive.
Ironically, of the hundreds of emails I received each week, the vast majority fit into one of six major categories: speaking opportunities, customer experience, client service needs, podcast, finance, sales and marketing.
For each of these categories, I created a series of message rules that dictate how they should be handled. For example, all queries from people who want to be featured on my podcast should be forwarded directly to our podcast producer.
If an email either didn't fit into a category, or didn't align with one of the rules, I created a new rule: Discuss this email at our daily standup meeting.
Delegate 100 percent of your emails to a trusted assistant.
Once you have analyzed your emails, assigned them to categories and written your category rules (a process that requires roughly two hours to complete), you're ready to assign your email management to a trusted assistant.
Take the time to walk through the entire process with him or her. For the first few days, set aside time to go through your emails together, answering any questions your assistant might have regarding your categories, message rules or any other issues that surface.
Releasing email has been one of the most significant decisions I've made in my business this year. I have more time, more head-space, and more freedom to drive my business forward. Hopefully, it will have the same impact for you.