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Punch Your Email Inbox in the Face

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Remember when you controlled your inbox? You would receive an email from a newsletter you actually remember signing up for or get that occasional email from the handful of friends who used Hotmail. It was a calm and quiet receptacle of welcomed messages, interrupted only by this beautiful and exhilarating sound. Email was manageable and fun.

Inboxes are no longer manageable nor fun. Inboxes are out of control. It’s time to punch your inbox in the face.

How did we get here?

Basecamp’s Jason Fried asked the perfect question on the stage at Big Omaha 2010, “When did our inboxes become a dumping ground for other people’s to do lists?” He’s exactly right. Whether you’re working in a big corporation, a small startup, or even just your family affairs, our inboxes have become the perfect place for others to pass the buck.

As email became ubiquitous, it became many people’s primary form of communication, replacing the telephone and face-to-face discussion. What’s the major difference between email and the phone or face-to-face communication? It’s emotionless.

It’s much easier to ask for a favor, reassign a task, or place blame via email because there’s no emotion. You don’t hear someone’s voice and you can’t look into someone’s eyes.

Let’s not take the easy way out.

How do we stop it?

Email can be a tsunami. An unstoppable force that we only hope to survive. And when people do, you celebrate the unreachable Inbox Zero. Here are four ways to stop it.

1. Set Boundaries

A friend of mine has this message as his auto-responder to all emails in his inbox…

Email Tips: I check my email every few hours…be patient. The shorter your message the quicker I’ll respond.

The first time I received this response I felt a bit disrespected and that this person was being rude. How do they not have time for MY email? Then I realized. This is brilliant.

Set email boundaries that work for you. Do you check email first thing in the morning, at lunch, and at the end of the day? Do you only work on emails from 9-11 a.m.? Or, do you only check email on Tuesdays and Thursdays? Only you know what works best for you, but boundaries are paramount.

2. Don’t Exceed Expectations

I often tell my team at Lemonly not to set false email expectations. Certainly, we want to deliver great service and practice quick communication with our clients, but when you respond to emails at 10:30 p.m. or on Sunday afternoons, you’ve just made it acceptable for your clients to email you at those times. Plus, they may now expect a response from you on Sunday if you responded last time.

Some companies have gone as far to ban email before 6 a.m. and after 6 p.m. This eases the burden of emails on employees and eliminates the pressure of trying to catch up or get ahead. A German car company, Daimler, has installed software that deletes emails for you while you’re on vacation or OOO. Daimler is protecting its team from the email tsunami. We should do the same.

3. Write Better Emails

Maybe you’re writing poor emails? Are they too long? Too short? What’s the perfect length of an email?

Guy Kawasaki says “Less than five sentences is often abrupt and rude, more than five sentences wastes time.” Author and Founder of All-Top says, “(The) Proper email is a balance between politeness and succinctness.”

Rethink how you write emails. Be polite, yet succinct.

4. Let It Go

Stop treating email like the most important thing in your life. Don’t let your inbox dictate your day. Those little red notification numbers do not dictate your success or failure.

As CEO of a 18 person company I spend a lot of time in my email inbox. Too much really. The first step is to recognize you have an email problem. I realized I did. The second step was utilizing the tips above to take control of my inbox.

Email is an amazing, powerful tool that can be very productive, but it can also be very dangerous. Punch that inbox in the face and get on with your life.

This was a special guest post from 9 Clouds brofounder, (brother + cofounder), John Meyer. Read more about his infographic design company Lemonly and view a short video version of this article here: