During the making of FLOW-e, our team is getting familiar with humanity’s current problems with the inbox so we can tackle them head on. We decided to delve a little deeper into the sentiment of “drowning in email” and what major media outlets had already published on the topic. Do people actually feel that way? That’s how we discovered Huffington Post author and independent executive coach Ellen G. Goldman from New Jersey. Her September 2016 article called “Are you Drowning in Emails? 6 Tips to Get Out from Under” was a great research-backed discussion on the drives and temptations surrounding what it takes to manage email and why we are anxious about it. Ellen’s experience working with members of society, executives, CEOs and entrepreneurs, inundated by communication from all directions to help them achieve work/ life balance and much more are the perfect complement to existing surveys on the matter. We decided to catch up with Ellen by inviting her to be the first Inbox Hero on our blog, so she could share some tips and tricks about how she and her clients manage email to “hack” their inboxes in unique and functional ways (and how you can too!).
When did you get your first email?
I don’t remember when I received my first email message, but I do remember when I got my first email account that I could use. It was when my kids were at sleep-away camp. It was the first year of a new computer lab that the kids could use every day. When the kids were there, they had permission to converse via email with their parents. So, naturally, I made my very first account, a personal Yahoo account, so I could talk to my kids. It was not for business purposes. Only after I started my own business did I realize that there needed to be a separation between the business inbox and the personal inbox. They were just too different.
How many emails do you get these days?
Honestly, I’ve never counted how many I get per day but I would guesstimate… I have three different email address, altogether I would guess 200-250 a day. However, I would guess at least 75% of those are irrelevant or pure junk. But I am also very diligent about the way I manage email. I process messages very quickly so I never have that many things sitting there.
What inbox habits have you seen help your clients manage email?
The first thing I truly believe is that handling your email starts with the mindset. For me, the mindset needs to be twofold. First, you need to train people on how you are going to converse with them through email.
You also need to be aware that when you go to email first thing in the morning what you are actually doing is turning over your agenda to somebody else instead of tending to your agenda first.
If you think about it, it makes perfect sense put this way. Pretty much 99% of all emails are requesting something of us. For example, answer this question for me, take this survey, sign up for this webinar, buy this product. It’s a request! If you handle those requests first, you’re dealing with someone else’s urgencies and needs rather than your own. Email is a wonderful tool but we need to be in control of it.
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How would you suggest the receiver take more of that control from the sender?
It begins with the relationship between you and who you will be emailing with. Unless you’re in the customer service industry, where it’s actually your job to respond immediately, you’re getting paid to respond immediately, most email responding time is actually not as urgent as we think it is.
If somebody sends you an email and you respond immediately the first time, you are training them that you will continue to respond immediately. Being careful with managing email expectations here is key.
How do you manage email expectations in your coaching practice?
For example, when I begin an email relationship with a new client something I do offer is unlimited email support between our coaching appointments. We set up expectations and agreements about the way we will manage email with this person. Right upfront, the expectation is there. Many people say that they don’t have that control because they have a boss that emails them constantly or, “My customers will leave me if I don’t respond immediately!”. That’s what I call a limited belief. You’re holding onto that belief without knowing whether that’s true. I work with pretty successful entrepreneurs, upper management executives and business professionals, so this is an issue that comes up all the time.
Could you give us an example of how someone you worked with got control of their inbox?
I worked with a young woman who was really getting inundated with email and did not get to her own work. So, she ended up staying late after everyone left because all day she was wasting time on email. After a meeting with her boss, they came up with a system that worked really beautifully for both. She installed an autoresponder, and it said “I will respond to emails at 12 noon and 5pm. If this is truly an emergency, I can be reached by telephone.” Essentially, she batched her email time, which is what I recommend to everybody. Having times of the day that we set aside to manage email is the only way to stay on top of an email inbox without spending innumerable hours all day handling email.
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Do people you work with get a lot of their tasks from email? Does this keep them “addicted to email”?
Yes, I love that you used the word addicted. According to scientific research, we have a proven addiction to email and our other devices. The same pleasure zone in the brain that lights up when a gambler, alcoholic or shopaholic reaches for their fix, fires each time we hear that sound indicating “you’ve got mail”. The more we respond, the more we have to do so to receive that same pleasurable sensation. As for those who “receive tasks to work on” via email, I think it’s dependent on the industry. You’ll see that more often in Sales and Customer Services. I think many go to their email inbox in order to have their attention directed towards what they believe they need to be working on. What that tells me as a coach is that what’s probably missing is a strategic planning system in which somebody actually knows what their goals are, whether they are monthly, quarterly, so on…
Most people don’t have a system for defining what it is that they want to be working towards. So, the inbox is where they’re going first to get that direction. However, I really think the planning system should exist before the inbox.
What’s a bad email habit you’ve noticed is very popular?
I’m a very big believer of not checking your inbox first thing in the morning. I think it’s a terrible way to start your morning. It sets you up for paying attention to somebody else’s agenda rather than your own. I think it’s stress-producing and can be an enormous time suck. Before you know it, you’re down the email rabbit hole, hours have passed and you haven’t done productive work. Some people, like myself, need a perusal to find out whether any of the new emails are appointment cancellations. I won’t even necessarily respond at that moment. I am just skimming through to see if there are any changes to the schedule.
Executives say they often manage email to delegate tasks. Can emails and tasks work together?
When I started helping people get a handle on their emails, I was surprised at how much this came up. What I teach is that emails in the inbox should be prioritized based on the senders. Then, they should be managed the way we are taught to manage our files and papers before email. You handle it once; you want to touch a piece of paper only once, dealing with it to completion. In the same way, you should aim to handle an email once. Deal with it by responding. Delete it if not needed. Delegate it if someone else should or could be handling it for you. Delegating is a big part of being able to recognize, prioritize and distribute tasks that are not for you.
If I’m sitting in front of my inbox and thinking – why is it so full? – I start unsubscribing from stuff. I should be spending time on my goals rather than reading somebody else’s things. This problem comes from the FOMO (fear of missing out) that everyone suffers from. Many f us believe that, if we do not subscribe and read everything, we will miss out on what is current in our industries. However, if there comes a point at which you’re spending more time on reading and debating rather than executing, I don’t care what industry you’re in, you just won’t get your work done. You need to link email to your own goals, not somebody else’s.
Opportunities come from email yet it is a source of anxiety and distraction. How do we optimize this channel?
I think the biggest problem of “drowning in email” is that important stuff does start to fall through the cracks. We might miss out on wonderful opportunities because we either don’t respond in a timely fashion or our emails vanish under the never-ending pile up. When your inbox is out of control, every time you look at it, the stress becomes enormous. You might actually get that fight or flight response in your brain. Often you choose flight; you procrastinate, telling yourself you will deal with all these emails later. And later there are just more piling up on top of those you haven’t dealt with from earlier.
How many times have you heard someone say – “Oh I never got that email!” It’s probably sitting there buried underneath all the other unread emails. You must invest time into getting back control of your inbox, and clean up the current mess that is there. However, attach it to a system to manage email as it comes in. Otherwise, you’ll be right back where you started from.
Get to know Ellen and her practice
Ellen Goldman (@EllenGCoaching) is a healthy lifestyle and wellness expert, who has inspired, trained, coached, and presented to thousands of individuals throughout the country. Ellen created EllenG Coaching to help overextended business professionals and entrepreneurs who are worried about their health and happiness, and are either exhausted, burnt out, out of shape, overweight, or all of the above! Through her coaching programs, motivational talks and online courses, she shows clients how to integrate health into their busy lifestyles with simple, small steps that lead to massive change, resulting in greater energy, focus, productivity and happiness every day. With 30 plus years experience in the health and fitness industries, working as a personal trainer and certified wellness coach while raising her family, Ellen knows first hand that you do not need to sacrifice your health and happiness to have a successful career. Her mission is to help others thrive both personally and professionally. To learn more about Ellen and her wellness programs, visit www.EllenGcoaching.com
Want to be our next inbox hero? Write us a note (monica AT flow-e . com), sharing how you’ve taken control of your email and how we can do it too!