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Take Back Your Personal Time (4 Steps To A Tidy Inbox & Why It Matters)

Bob Caporale thought leader in product strategy and product management training leader

Bob Caporale

March 13, 2018

Back in 2016, I wrote an article for LinkedIn Pulse in which I provided 4 tips to help people better organize their email inboxes. In summary, those tips were:

  1. Adjust your mindset by learning how to view your inbox as a tool rather than as a storage location.
  2. Devise an inbox management system by moving any emails that do not require your immediate attention to locations outside of your inbox.
  3. Create a simple email filing system that will allow you to easily move emails out of your inbox.
  4. Utilize long-term follow-up tools that will allow you to automatically bring emails back into your inbox that will require your action sometime in the future.

If you are interested in learning more about any of these steps, you can read the full article by clicking here.

After writing that article, I received a lot of positive feedback from people who agreed that keeping a clean inbox was, in fact, an important ingredient for more effective business management. But I also received more than a few comments from people who almost defensively held on to the belief that having hundreds, if not thousands of unread emails in their inbox was a system that somehow worked for them. So, in an attempt to win that group over as well, I thought it would be interesting to provide a bit of a backstory as to why I feel that having a neat and tidy inbox will ultimately serve you better in the long run.

When I was a child, I can remember my father leaving our house at 6:15 in the morning to catch a 6:30 train into Manhattan. With three different station transfers and a several block walk, this schedule would just barely get him into work by 8:30. At 5:00, on the dot, he would reverse the entire process and arrive home for dinner just before 7:15 in the evening. Nobody would ever claim that any of this was easy, but it also came with some benefits as well.

Once my father hit the train, he was on his time. Without cell phones or computers to artificially extend his workday, Dad caught up on his reading or on the latest news. I’m not saying he wasn’t bored sometimes, but he most certainly wasn’t working.

Evenings and weekends also belonged 100% to Dad and, as a result, he belonged 100% to us. Nobody from work could get in touch with him even if they wanted to during those times. But perhaps more importantly, nobody really wanted to because they were all enjoying time with their families as well. When my dad was at work, he was able to focus on work. When he was at home, he was able to focus on home. And for 25 years or so, never the two did meet.

Fast forward to today. Now, the line between our personal lives and our business lives are virtually non-existent. We are literally bombarded with digital inputs from all angles throughout almost every moment of every day. And I truly believe that our email inboxes, being the online repositories for most of this insanity, have become virtual representations of the fact that our personal lives are moving rapidly outside the span of our collective control.

It’s almost expected that if I go on vacation for a few days, I’ll return to literally hundreds of unread emails that might take me up to a full day to sort through. But lately I can’t even take a weekend to myself without being treated to no less than 30 emails from colleagues and customers who have chosen to work during those 2 sacred days that once served to recharge our collective batteries in preparation for another 5 days of work. And with this being the new bar, I now find myself working through most weekends as well, which only adds to all the madness.

So, based on that setup, you might think that my proposed solution to all of this is that we go back to the way things used to be. And although that’s probably the more comfortable answer, I realize that taking such a position would be about as impossible as it would be counterproductive.

Times change. Businesses change. Consumer expectations change. And, yes, we do have to change right along with them. So, rather than saying we should all stop working on our own personal time, what I propose is that we try to work more efficiently so that we can take even a little bit of that personal time back.

Keeping up with your emails, once you perfect the process, is a lot easier than it may seem. And the result is that you’ll spend a lot less time fighting fires, a lot less time following up on tasks that you forgot to take care of, and a lot less time feeling constantly overwhelmed by whatever collection of requests might be waiting for you at any given time. In short, when you can clear your mind, even for a few hours, you can give yourself that little bit of rest that used to come in the form of evenings and weekends, but that now must come for a few short hours at a time during any part of any given day. That’s what clearing your inbox can do for you. And it really does work.

In addition to all of those benefits, you will become just about the best “follow-upper” ever known to mankind. If you are a small business owner, your business will increase as a result. If you work for a company, you will develop a reputation for being reliable, diligent, and self-motivating – and your chances for promotion are sure to rise as well. Having an organized, well-managed methodology to follow-up on outstanding tasks and requests has always been a key differentiator in business.

Your email inbox is your new to-do list. If you learn how to manage it more effectively, great things are sure to follow.

About The Author

Bob Caporale thought leader in product strategy and product management training leader

Bob Caporale

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