The #1 Email Rule

Rachel Dotson —  October 15, 2014 — Leave a comment

fight-club

At SaneBox we’ve thought long and hard about optimal email workflow and have come up with a long list of rules and tips.

One of these rules is so important, it should be both rule #1 and #2, just like in Fight Club. It will require a substantial shift in your thinking about email, but this rule will change your life: don’t make clearing your Inbox your top priority.  

There’s an inherent gamification in clearing your inbox. It feels productive and provides a brief feeling of accomplishment. But as we all know, this feeling is not only fleeting but has a dangerous flip side—processing email is a reactive activity. When you let other people set your priorities, you’re not in control of your time, and this should be a deal breaker for anyone.

What can you do to apply this rule to your life?

First of all, become comfortable with the idea that some of the emails in your inbox will never get responded to. And that’s okay. Imagine a world where you don’t have to respond to an email just because it’s there. It’s okay if you choose to, but not because someone else decided for you. Feels good, doesn’t it?

Second, have a clear set of priorities. Whenever you sit down to check email, ask yourself, “Is clearing the inbox the best use of my time? Is there really nothing more valuable I can do?” If you can’t find any higher priority things that will actually grow the business—by all means spend time on your email. And if there’s an email that directly aligns with your top priorities, then it’s a win-win for you and your inbox. It’s completely okay if on some days “Clearing the Inbox” is in your top 5 to-dos.  In fact, eventually, it needs to be. The problem is that email has become THE default top priority without us even realizing it. We spend 28% of our time on email, but when we think about our priorities, email isn’t even on there. (Source: McKinsey Global Institute)

Lastly, there are two types of emails:

1) Ones that require actual work;
2) Ones that just need to be “dealt with” (responded to, forwarded, filed etc).

While we tend to be more afraid of the first kind (nobody likes more work), the sheer volume of the unimportant mail adds up. Research on interruptions shows that the second kind is very harmful to productivity—it takes 1.5 minutes to read and recover from an average email. Since most email clients and webmail UIs allocate the same amount of screen real estate to each email, our brain is tricked into giving them the same amount of attention.

As noted, not all emails are created equal: some emails need to be dealt with right away (important/urgent), others can wait until later (important/non-urgent), and everything else should be processed in bulk (unimportant.) In other words, you should have a prioritization system even within your inbox.

On that note, does automatic email filtering, follow-up reminders, and one-click unsubscribe sound nice? We have everything you need to manage your inbox effectively and stay productive. Get started now for free »

Inbox Zero With SaneBox

Rachel Dotson

Posts

Michigander turned Angeleno. Teach For America alum turned startup marketer. I spend my days at SaneBox, saving the world from email woes one interruption at a time.

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