The title of this article is not meant to be boasting. It is more a sigh of relief.
I ended last week pretty much the same way everyone else does; with an inbox full of unread emails. Some emails would be important, most would not, and very seldom would something be urgent.
However, I ended this week, with a total of 4 tasks to attend to, and not a single email left in my inbox. Now, don’t think I achieved this with some slight-of-hand, moving all the emails from my inbox into a hundred different folders, all for me to review, but just not in my inbox.
No, this really is an empty inbox, with a few highlighted tasks for me to attend to.
So, let’s see HOW I managed to achieve this, and then I’ll explain WHY you should do this yourself.
Firstly, you have to get used to the idea of letting go. You are not nearly as important as you think you are. You are very capable, sure, but being a master f your own email is not much of an aspiration of achievement.
The first step I took was to work out a way for me to see all my important emails, the ones I have to do something about or respond to, without going near the mass of not so important emails I receive every day.
I decided that the best way to achieve this was to turn every important email into a task on a task-list manager, OUTSIDE of any email account. This had to be an automated and reliable process. I should not go into my email, choose the ones that should become tasks, and then create the task list.
Enter a Virtual Assistant, in the Philippines.
Meet Mareone. Once a day, Mareone logs into my Gmail inbox and sifts through everything, with the following basic rules:
1 – If the sender is on the VIP list (Which I maintain in Slack), she “Stars” it and archives the email.
2 – If the sender is not a VIP, but requires action from me, she “Stars” and archives the email, but also send the following response, on my behalf:
Thank you for your email.
In order to preserve productivity and a focus on deep work, I filter all emails coming into this inbox, and create the relevant tasks for Pieter.
He will be checking on these every Friday afternoon, so you can expect a response on Friday at the latest.
On behalf of Pieter K de Villiers
3 – Any email from a handful of Subscriptions, go into their specific folders.
4 – All other email simply get’s archived, I never see them.
What happens here is that any email that is “Starred” in my Gmail account, becomes a task for me in Wunderlist. I set up Zapier, (zapier.com has the potential to change your life) to turn any starred email into a task, with the following rules:
Sender Name and Email Subject = Task Title
Email body = Task Description
Email attachments = Task Attachment Files
This means that I do not need to go into my email account to see what emails came in that day I need to deal with. I have 30mins scheduled at the end of every weekday for reviewing these tasks and responding to those I have to.
I also have 90 mins scheduled at the end of the day on Friday, for clearing the outstanding tasks from that week. I use this time for replies to any non-VIP tasks.
Aside from this, we have also abandoned email as a means of communication in our business. We use Slack (slack.com) for all internal communications, but also for ALL communications with our existing customers.
When you become one of our customers, you are given an email address to use, instead of our personal email addresses. Whenever a client sends an email to us, it lands in a Slack channel. The whole team can see the email and anyone can respond.
Complete transparency of communication.
This ensures that any existing clients are dealt with outside of my new system, as we have a responsibility to deal with their enquiries as a priority above anyone else.
I have always felt that checking emails endlessly was a massive waste of time. My first step was to only check email twice a day. That was until I attended a day with Glen Carlson.
The day was not about email at all, it was about getting leads. At the end of the day Glen did talk about productivity and using a VA, etc.
He used a phrase that I could not get out of my head: “As a business owner, checking your own email is not a responsible deployment of your time.”
Not, it is stupid, or wastes time, all the things I’d heard before. It was the “irresponsible” that stuck in my head, and made me take action. (Somewhat delayed though.)
This happened around the same time that I read two books.
In our work at Barefoot Digital, we work with our clients in intensely focussed periods of time. We generally achieve in a 48 Hour Launch what most people would like to achieve in 2 to 6 months. Simply because we are focused and without distraction.
It therefor makes it criminal for me to take 20 minutes here and there to look at email and go down the rabbit hole, instead of remaining focused on the client work we have scheduled for that day. And yes, ALL client work is scheduled. We now never start the day not sure of what we are working on.
Both Essentialism and Deep Work mentions the issue of “It only takes 5 minutes”. In truth, it never takes only 5 minutes. Even if you only take 5 minutes to check your emails, the interruption in your thought process, and the underlying destruction means it takes on average, 23 minutes after checking your email to get back to your previous level of focus on what you were doing.
That means if you check for 5 minutes, you actually lose 28 minutes of focus. Do that twice a day and you lose 4.6 hours per week. That is half a work day for many people. Unless you are flipping burgers under the golden arches, IT IS INSANE!!
What are the negative side effects?
Honestly, I don’t know. I also don’t really care either.
Whilst I take my own work and the work Barefoot Digital does very seriously, I also have the very valuable perspective that my wife Sophie is a Medical Oncologist, with some A&E experience from her training. She was also on alert last this week due to the tram derailment in London. The description of her day to day working environment gives me the perspective to realise that the work we do can actually wait. No lives are at stake!
And it is the same for you, in your business. A lot of the pressure you feel is created only in you mind.
Bryan Borzykowski wrote an article on the BBC website this week, about the anxiety people feel when they do not receive near immediate responses to their emails. “Our culture has conditioned us to expect an immediate response”, he writes.
Well, I am aware that I will now be adding to this anxiety in others, but the upside is that I am able to serve our customers better, I have a relaxed working environment, and my productivity is through the roof.
Oh, and how much has this cost me to date? $25. I have been able to buy back hours in my week for $25.
You owe it to yourself, your success and your customers. Stop Checking Your Email!
Author: Pieter K de Villiers
Pieter K de Villiers is slightly obsessed with systems. The systems and process automation he builds for small businesses are transformative, to say the least. Pieter is a Co-Founder of Barefoot Digital and the Amazon best-selling author of “Barefoot Business: 3 key systems to attract more leads, win more sales and delight more customers without your business killing you”.