This is a very scary day. Yesterday, following on from my recent blog about emails, The curse of the humble email, I spent a couple of hours with my PA looking at the psychology of emails. She had been on a course on Tuesday that is destined to change forever my email life!
I mentioned in an early post that the top tip regarding emails from Valerie Pearce at Brighton and Hove City Council is to “prioritise and delete”.
Some people are hoarders of emails, with tens of thousands of emails festering in their inbox. They do not have a hope in hell of having anything other than a nightmare relationship with emails. How can anyone keep track of even 100 emails let alone 18,000?
I thought I was quite good at ordering my emails. As soon as they had been dealt with they were dragged into one of twenty to thirty sub-folders in my ‘Received’ folder. The theory was that this makes for easy retrieval.
All well and good, except when my inbox begins to groan under 100, 200, even 500 emails. The psychology is that emails equate to anxiety. I had developed a need to check my emails at every possible opportunities, and I began to prioritise quick wins at the expense of, perhaps, more important emails. It gave me the allusion that I was coping. Yet all that was happening was that important emails were backing up, sadly neglected.
Like the classic alcoholic, I began to hoard emails in folders called ‘Pending’, then ‘Pending November’, Pending December’ and ‘Pending January’, along with ‘Pending Nikki’, Pending Wendy’ and a good two dozen or so of the email equivalent to hiding a bottle of alcohol behind the books. It gave the illusion I was coping.
The irony is that when I looked at these emails, several hundred in total, most were unimportant, that I had been copied in for information, or the issue was long gone and forgotten. Once again I reflected how easy it is to be copied in to things that are not central to my job.
So why is today so scary. Gone are the various ‘Pending’ folders. They have been replaced by just four. I have been introduced to the four D’s – ‘Do’, ‘Delete’, ‘Defer’ and ‘Delegate’.
Then there is ’Email Death Row’. I must admit I am really not at all sure about this last one, having had a lifelong aversion to the death penalty having read Alan Paton’s Cry, the Beloved Country as a young boy.
‘Email Death Row’ relates to are for those emails you don’t know whether you want to deal with, or have time to deal with. You know that at some point you will kill them off. These emails could be the overwhelming majority that don’t necessarily need attention, the circulars, the group emails, the ‘cc’ for information emails.
I’ll blog again at a later date about whether this approach has improved my well being. In the meantime, if you want to find out more about Think Productive’s excellent email training workshops (it is far more thought-provoking than that sounds) contact http://www.thinkproductive.co.uk or email Graham Allcott at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @grahamallcott or @thinkproductive. Graham is also the author of the book “How to be a Productivity Ninja”.