On the one hand, I love email.
On the other hand, I see it as the great time-waster, the ultimate distraction. How many times have you blocked out an hour or two to start a big project, or to sit and write, or to do yoga, and you’re ready to begin, and you think, “Hmm. I should check my email first.” ??? (I’ve never done that, but I figure that maybe you have.)
Then there’s spam. When I first get to my office each afternoon, it takes me about 10 minutes just to delete all the spam emails. Mostly I can spot them quickly and delete them in bunches. But there’s always a few titled something like, “Question” that I have to open, even though the sender’s name is something like Tony Madrid, which should tell me right off that the message is not going to be a question at all, but rather, it’s going to be about All-Things-Erectile. Tony Madrid isn’t emailing a booking question to an Asheville songwriter. Tony Madrid is looking for some Viagra and a gal named Lola. In Vegas perhaps. Or Bransen.
Anyway, let’s talk about the ever filling-up email In-Box and how to clean yours out when it gets all crammed full. Email In-Boxes can get out of control for any number of reasons. My situation got bad after I let go of a full-time employee in my record label office. Along with the emotional strain of that situation, I quickly got overtaken by the daily emails I wasn’t answering. I kept telling myself I’d get a new full-time employee who would respond to all of these, even though I knew it wasn’t the right time to hire someone else. Emails just kept coming in, and I’d read them and tell myself that I’d get to them someday. After a while I couldn’t handle it anymore. Many months of emails had built up, and it was time to face the fact that I would have to be the one to read, respond to, and deal with them.
And I did it. I cleaned out my email in-box. It felt great. Here are some thoughts on the process.
First you have to answer this question. Myself, I am one of those Woo-Woo- New-Thought-Loving-Asheville-Freaks, so I believe that all things have energy. Email is no exception. If you are holding on to the weight of unanswered, maybe-someday emails, then you aren’t allowing a flow, and eventually you prevent more good things from arriving.
If you feel a pang of guilt gnawing at you every time you open your email program, then I hereby dub you a Woo-Woo New-Thought-Loving Asheville Freak, and we’ll just go with that. We’ll know that you, too, believe that each email carries a weight to it, and that each indecision and inaction is just you telling the universe or your subconscious, “I can’t handle any new opportunities, friends, or income sources. No thanks. I’m all full-up.” (Otherwise you’d feel no pang at all.)
Do you really want that?
Of course not. But how do you begin if you’re dreading it, I mean really dreading it?
Start by setting the intent.
(No, scratch that.)
Start by being forgiving of yourself. And THEN set the intent.
I like setting goals on index cards. Write one goal or intention down per index card and read it every morning before you begin your day. Make sure the goal is do-able. Something like this: “By July 15 (or some day within 30 days), I will have deleted, filed or responded to or acted upon every email in my in-box.” For some people this is no small task. (We were at dinner with my friend Beth and her husband Jim, and while we were all looking at our menus, Jim stopped the discussion to announce that Beth had about TWO THOUSAND (and he said it in capital letters, too) emails in her In-Box. This fact upsets him to no end. Beth laughed and turned the shade of her Cosmopolitan. I dedicate this post to all the Beths in the world.)
When you read the index card every day, all you’re doing is reminding yourself that this is important. You don’t have to get gripped with fear and loathing about it. Within about 10 days of reading my little card over and over, I sat down and dealt with all the emails in my In-Box. I didn’t write it down in my calendar. I didn’t carve away time. I just did it one day. It was easy. (I include words like easily and effortlessly and healthily in my goal/intent setting.)
Two Guidelines for Cleaning Out your email In-Box:
1 – Start at the top of the list of emails. Do the required action for each email. Do it in order. Don’t skip any of them.
I borrowed this idea from David Allen’s book Getting Things Done. (A book that, ironically enough, I didn’t finish.) Allen coaches his clients who are over run with undone to-do’s to pile up all of their unfinished to-do’s in one In-Box and then complete each item in order. His clients stack up every un-filed bill, every incomplete item that comes into their head during the process, every unanswered piece of mail into their In-Box and then one by one, they do each item. They aren’t allowed to toss anything aside. They have to answer it, apply for it, file it, trash it, whatever. No matter what it is or how long it takes, he requires clients to begin the GTD process by going through their In-Box in this methodical way.
This is what I did with my email In-Box. One by one, I went through each email and acted upon it. Some of the emails were CD requests from radio stations or information requests from other songwriters, or general public questions about my tours or blogs or lyrics. I just plodded along, focusing on one email at a time. When I was tempted to bypass an email with a lame excuse like “I’ll wait on that one because it’s a little more time consuming,” my Inner Nurse Ratched (who read Getting Things Done in its entirety) told me to sit my ass back down and do it. All of the emails fell into one of these areas: Deal with it, delegate it, delete it, or file it. Some of the emails required some thought or research on my part or on my employee’s part, and so I filed them in a mailbox entitled “IDEAS TO PONDER.” (Yes, it’s a shame that a corporate managerial mind like my own is going to waste writing songs.)
2 – Assign Homes for Filed Emails.
I borrowed this technique from Julie Morgenstern’s book Organizing From the Inside Out. Her premise is that if every item that comes into your house has a place where it belongs — a home — then you’re more likely to put it away. And you are less likely to create clutter. Same thing with emails.
I have to file lots of my emails. Invoices for my web hosting, booking requests, CD distribution orders, etc etc. So, many of the emails need to be filed and revisited. Creating homes for emails is a valuable process that will truly serve you in the long run.
Note: There is a wrong way to create a home for email. One employee in my office made a new Mailbox for almost every email that came in. So the many many Mailboxes she created are completely chaotic. (That’s my next project.) There’s a mailbox called, “Show in Dallas.” And one called, “Guy making Independent Film.” This helps no one at all. It takes at least five minutes just to scroll down and see all of the mailbox headings she’s created and try to figure out what she was thinking when she filed an email away. “Now let’s see, if I were her, where would I put that email from CDBaby?”
Create BIG categories for your mailboxes. And take some time to think about what your big categories are. An example of an independent musician’s big categories might be Booking, Distribution, Emailers, Publishing, Publicity, Radio, Website. And each big category has sub-categories. For instance: Booking – Requests, Booking – Benefit Concerts, Booking – Opening Acts, etc. Or Publishing – Film & TV, Publishing – ASCAP, Publishing – Indie CD’s. The key thing is to put the big category name first consistently, even when you have a sub-category so you can easily locate that email later.
Take time to think about your mailbox headings first. Then start moving the emails into them. But be careful. You don’t want to overload the mailbox to the point that the information is now all crammed in there and that becomes your new In-Box!
Feel free to add any suggestions. And Beth, if you read this, I’m anxious to hear how it goes for you! And Tony Madrid, if you read this, may you and your truckloads of Viagra disappear one night in a dark alley in Bransen.