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An Email about Email

Updated: Oct 6, 2023

This was an email from my newsletter in June 2023:

Dropping in this month with an email about….email! Most of us are managing a personal email, and at least one work email. At one point I had my eyes on over twelve inboxes, yikes. I’m sure I’m not the only one.

What I may be in the minority with is this: I practice the inbox zero method across my four primary work, volunteer, and personal email inboxes. It’s a practice that has now become a habit, so I thought I’d share what has helped me:

  1. Implement a "Delete or Archive" Approach: When going through my inbox, I aim to make decisions about each email quickly. If an email doesn't require any further action or isn't significant for future reference, I delete it. If it contains important information that I might need later, I archive it. I avoid leaving emails sitting in my inbox indefinitely.

  2. Unsubscribe: I take the time to unsubscribe from newsletters, promotional emails, and mailing lists that I no longer find valuable or relevant. By reducing the influx of unnecessary emails, I can focus on the ones that truly matter.

  3. Turn off Notifications and Schedule Email Sessions: Instead of constantly checking my inbox throughout the day, I designate specific times for handling emails. By batching my email sessions, I can stay focused on other tasks without getting distracted by every new message. I prioritize important emails during these sessions and resist the urge to continuously refresh my inbox. I just wish I didn’t have to go into Outlook to see my calendar! Note about email on my phone: I admit this is a whole different ball game. I am constantly checking email on my phone outside of my designated times. It has helped me to use the Downtime and App Limit features or even remove the email app entirely. It’s a work in progress for me for sure.

  4. Use the Two-Minute Rule: If I come across an email that can be responded to or dealt with in two minutes or less, I take immediate action. I reply, forward, and then delete or archive it right away. This prevents small tasks from piling up.

For my insurance peeps: If something takes more than 2 minutes to deal with, attach it to your management system and set up an activity, which you can assign to yourself or another person for a current or future date when it should actually be attended to. Delete or archive it right away. Think twice about forwarding it to your co-worker if you can attach it to the system and set up an activity for them instead. We get enough emails from clients and carriers, why add to the volume with internal emails if we don’t have to? I know many agents struggle with this because they are spending more of their day in their inbox than using the activities in their management system. This is a symptom of an agency that does not have processes or protocols around email.

In his book, A World Without Email, Cal Newport says, “In knowledge work, any type of valuable result that your organization produces can be understood as the output of a production process.” So by this logic, an independent insurance agency has two main processes, a sales production process and a service production process. Each process has many offshoots depending on the situation, carriers, and line of business so two processes become fifty pretty quickly, but they can have the same underlying habits and tools to make them easy to learn and repeat. Workflows are habits, after all, and today, email shows up in almost every single one.

BONUS Tip: Because every email sent is an email received. Don't cc people "just to keep them in the loop." I will never forget when Jenn Walsh compared the mass carbon copy move so “nothing is missed” to watching 7th grade volleyball. You can see her LinkedIn post here. The more you email your team, the more you are distracting them from working. If you're emailing them to send them something to work on, you most likely don't have a better process. If you're emailing them with procedural updates, try putting it in a centralized playbook and have a quick training to roll out the changes.

I know it seems like a fool’s errand to practice inbox zero with your work email nowadays, especially if you're in the insurance industry, but it may seem impossible because you don’t have clear processes in place for what happens from the moment that email hits your inbox. More on that from me later, I'm just getting started. (Not in this email, but just later, like, for years to come.)

Start applying some of these processes with your personal inbox and prove the concept to yourself, then you can start to practice it professionally.

To get started, go back to the very beginning or sort by sender. Review older emails, clear out irrelevant or outdated messages, and archive those that you want to keep for future reference. The archive button will be your best friend through the deep cleanout process and daily after that.

I had been practicing inbox zero for work emails for years before I applied it to my personal life. I had 18,000 emails in my personal Gmail account recently and got it down to 0 by doing it the hard way, archiving 50 at a time, but this is a great video about how to bulk archive your emails in much less time. Now that I have unsubscribed from most of my unwanted newsletters and marketing subscriptions, I am able to clan out my inbox at least weekly, if not daily using the archive button. Not to mention it's so satisfying seeing those emails disappear.

Remember, keeping your inbox clear is an ongoing process that requires discipline and consistent effort. By implementing these strategies and developing good email habits, you can stay organized, reduce stress, and ensure that your inbox remains a productive space for effective communication.

If you think I’m nuts and this is a pipe dream that you only wish was possible, please reply to this email to let me know. I’d love to help you declutter and start fresh with these new habits! Just ask my mom, she was my first client.

Would you be interested in attending a virtual session with me about this? Individually or in a group setting? Drop me a note!



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