One of my favourite tools for managing e-mail is Sanebox. In a nutshell, Sanebox is a tool to filter incoming e-mails into sub-folders based on relative importance. So e-mails from paying clients go into my inbox for my priority attention, e-mails from other business contacts go into my SaneLater folder – for my attention as and when time permits, messages such as LinkedIn requests and automated e-mails go into my SaneBulk folder to be glanced at once every few days, e-mail newsletters go into the SaneNews folder to be browsed when the mood takes me, and if anyone gets on my bad side by spamming me – they find themselves in the SaneBlackHole folder, and Sanebox insures I never see any of their future e-mails ever again.
Quite apart from the technology involved in making a tool like Sanebox so useful to me though, is how Sanebox has allowed me to take a matter-of-fact view on the number and type of e-mails I receive – matter-of-fact because when it comes down to it, it’s made me realise that hardly any of the e-mail I get is important at all.
E-Mail is not for conversations
Last year I wrote about my experiment in using the Telephone instead of E-Mail and how it helped me to drastically reduce the number of e-mails I have to deal with.
E-Mail is useful for disseminating information. But nowadays the majority of us miss out on important stuff because we’re convinced that dealing with lots of e-mail and being busy is a standard operating procedure of successful people.
Being productive is about getting things done. A year on from my experiment in using the telephone instead of e-mail, the quickest way to get more than 75% of the things I need to get done is by picking up the telephone and talking to somebody instead of e-mailing them.
As a general rule, if I receive an e-mail and I know I can reply to that e-mail with some information without expecting any follow-up – I’ll do it.
But take that rule and apply it to all the e-mails you receive – questions about products and services, enquiries about availability, requests for advice and guidance and more – and I’m guessing that, like me, you’ll find it quicker to pick up the telephone and call the person to close the loop instead of having a conversation with them over e-mail.
Dealing with non-important e-mails
Once you’ve used that rule to deal with important e-mails that require a response, you’re left with the rest of the e-mails you receive on a day-to-day basis. LinkedIn connection requests, Social Media invites, e-mail newsletters and the like.
The interesting thing I’ve found is – you begin to realise that hardly any of these messages are important.
I like to think I’ll read the e-mail newsletters I subscribe to – but I never do. Thanks to blogs and social media, I still manage to keep abreast of current events.
I’d like to respond to all the LinkedIn requests I receive – but I never do. Somehow, those people who are genuinely interested in connecting with me still find a way to.
If something is important, it’ll find it’s way onto my radar. If it’s not – it can safely be ignored. And if it can safely be ignored – what’s the point in receiving an e-mail about it in the first place?
My latest experiment
With this in mind, my latest experiment is to reduce the number of e-mails I get by half.
In March 2013, my Google Account Activity tells me I received a 1042 e-mails.
I’m going to try to get that figure down to around 500 e-mails a month or less and see if I’m still as productive and as profitable as before.
How about you? Is the volume of e-mail you receive important, or does it just make you feel important?
EDIT (1st July, 2013):- My latest Google Account activity reports tells me I’ve reduced the number of e-mails I received last month to 744. Not too shabby! Half way towards my goal of reducing to 500 e-mails a month!