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What’s Wrong with the Email Advice You’ve Been Given


Staff member
Jan 20, 2024
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What experts are leaving out of their advice is stealing your time and wrecking your productivity.

If you’ve ever looked for help to manage your email faster and easier, you’ve likely been led astray.

Many experts who give advice about email management treat email as if it can be managed in a vacuum, without considering or including any other systems or processes in your workday.

It certainly would be nice to think that email can be managed ONLY within email, but don’t believe it. It’s not possible if you want to manage your email effectively and efficiently, and actually get something accomplished.

Here’s why: email management is really TASK management in disguise.
It’s INFORMATION management in disguise, too.

Email is a communication tool, just like the phone. We say “email management,” but that’s a misnomer.

You don’t say, “phone management,” do you?

The point is not to simply handle email. You need to handle the tasks and the information you receive in email, just like handling the tasks and information you receive from phone calls and voice mails.

But that’s only the first pitfall professionals fall into.

The second one is getting stuck in the Inbox like it’s the only thing feeding you work.

But the email Inbox is NOT the only inbox you have to tend to. The email process is just ONE small wheel in a larger, more complex workday machine full of gears and wheels driving other processes in your day.

You may not have a lot of “inboxes” in your workday that look like inboxes, but think of the many SOURCES of tasks you have to deal with. They don’t LOOK like inboxes, but they bring you LOTS of tasks all the same.

These includes your office phone and your cell phone through which you receive calls and texts. You have meetings and hallway conversations that generate tasks. Social media, instant messaging, and teams applications all bring you tasks, and the papers and files on your desk hold tasks as well.

And when you create a to-do list on paper, that becomes a new source, because you created it and filled it up.

But a paper to-do list can’t be complete or all-inclusive. It CAN’T be. It’s paper! Same goes for whiteboards and Excel spreadsheets and task apps. NONE of them can be 100% all-inclusive. And that’s a problem. It’s just a different problem than the email advice you’ve been given. I digress…

Back to email.

As a source of important tasks and information, email deserves plenty of attention during the day, but it CAN’T be the only thing you pay attention to. On top of this, it’s what you DO with the tasks and information from those emails AFTER you receive and read them that matters the most.

If what you’re doing is LEAVING those emails in the Inbox after reading them and you’re trying to manage them from there, you’re losing so much.

You’re losing time, efficiency, productivity, effectiveness, and progress. But that’s just the start. That’s just about your email process.

What’s worse is that when email is managed inefficiently, you also lose information, miss tasks, forget follow-ups, miss events, lose opportunities, and so much more.

Email contains all kinds of tasks and information, but the Inbox is NEVER the place to manage ANYTHING.

When you’re advised to use flags or stars to remember to return to emails later or “triage” your email in some way, or use an “Action” folder for emails containing to-dos, you’re losing LOADS of time every day—and it’s taking your productivity with it.

First, using flags and stars is useless. These ONLY tell you to come back to an email later. That’s all. Same goes for marking emails as “unread” so they stay bold in the Inbox and printing emails and peppering your desk with them.

These “processes” don’t help you plan action or know WHEN to take action. They don’t help you prioritize one task over another. They don’t help you with the details you need to know for taking action. And they don’t help you to get moving. And using an “Action” folder to manage to-dos from email is just as useless for all the same reasons.

All these processes lead you to do is re-read emails you’ve ALREADY seen, but couldn’t do anything with.

This is a HUGE waste of your precious time. Never mind the fact that you’re spinning your wheels and not getting anywhere, because you’re not adding those tasks to an overall plan, you’re not prioritizing them with everything else you have to do, and you’re not taking definitive, decisive action on those tasks.

Even when these methods are somehow used in conjunction with some kind of planner or paper to-do list, you’re STILL left without an effective and reliable approach for managing ALL tasks—whether from email or from the many other sources of tasks in your day.

And you may know all of this, too, but without a better way to manage email, you feel stuck. I get it.

There are more than 10 different sources of tasks in your workday and professionals don’t realize that it’s actually impossible—I-M-P-O-S-S-I-B-L-E—to efficiently or effectively plan, prioritize, and accomplish tasks when trying to manage them ONLY from their sources without missing, losing or forgetting something—or a LOT of things.

When you check for flagged emails, then look at your phone, then voice mail, then texts, then your desk, then your to-do lists, then social media, then your teams software, then your whiteboard, then your post-it notes (you get the idea), you try to remember the MOST important task you found at each source. Then you try to plan and prioritize in your head to figure out what to do next.

In this process, you ask repeated questions…
Can I do this now? Do I need to do something else first? Am I in the mood to do this? Do I need to consult with someone else first? How long will this take? When should I really get started? When is this due? And on and on and on…

Specifically for flagged or marked emails, you’re not just reviewing these once a day. You’re reviewing them MULTIPLE times throughout the day. Or worse, they’ve been forgotten or become invisible because they’re not part of a larger, more meaningful plan. What results is a lot of time spent… and not a lot to show for it.

This process creates a HEAVY burden on your mind, which can easily be overloaded, adding to your stress and overwhelm. It also causes you to triple—at the very LEAST—the time it takes to effectively plan and prioritize tasks from email.

This means you have a HUGE delay in actually finishing tasks and projects, which works against you if you’re trying to make significant progress every day.

Your workday machine is driven by a LOT of gears and wheels working in conjunction, but the BIGGEST and most necessary wheel in the system is a digital Task List that’s all-inclusive of tasks.

Think of it as one single inventory of ALL your tasks—no matter where they came from or when you’ll take action. They’re all in ONE system where you can efficiently and effectively plan, prioritize, and take action. It’s the force that propels your productivity and drives your progress.

The smaller gears that keep this big wheel spinning include all of the sources of tasks and information, and the processes for bringing those into your day.

Once new tasks and information reach you in various ways from the many sources, they need to move AWAY from their sources and OUT of inboxes and be put into systems that are MEANT for managing those specific types of information, whether for future reference or for taking action.

Get tasks on a central, digital Task List. Get contact information into Contracts. Save attachments in the hard drive or in some other e-document library. Save certain emails in email folders for future reference. No matter what you do… get email OUT of the Inbox and manage it ELSEWHERE.

I’ll repeat…
SOURCES of tasks and information are not the PLACES for managing tasks and information.

So, be cautious when you hear email management advice that talks about what you can do with email while it’s STILL sitting in the Inbox or when it’s put into email folders. That’s not the whole story.

There are other systems and processes to take into consideration that allow you MUCH more control of tasks and information in your workday, as well as control of your productivity, progress, and TIME.

Again, email is just ONE small piece of a bigger workday machine made up of many gears and wheels. And when they’re all working together efficiently, you’ll have a well-oiled machine and a very productive workday.

That means you’ll be able to get things done faster and easier, and make more meaningful, visible progress during the day so you can unplug at home and enjoy more stress-free time for yourself and your family.
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