Declaring email bankruptcy

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There’s something distinctly unfunny about writing a whole blog post on managing emails, only to make a monumental error and lose the whole post. That just happened to me!

So, this feels a bit like having to re-do a piece of homework, but I hope that – on reading this post – you’ll feel it was worthwhile topic of conversation.

Simplifying your inbox

So much of our working lives revolve around composing, reviewing, reading, forwarding, saving, filing, retrieving – or even recalling – those little electronic postcards we call email.

Like me, if you have already been successful in simplifying other aspects of your life, applying some organisational principles to electronic mail is another step towards minimalism.

Emails falling like raindrops

On Bank Holiday Monday (Memorial Day to my lovely US readers), I spent some time that morning sitting at my breakfast bar, catching up on work emails.

Whilst it could be argued that I shouldn’t be doing this, the reality was that I’d had a very full diary during the preceding week, so there were quite a few emails that needed even just a little attention. This quiet couple of hours, with a lovely cup of coffee at my side, meant that I could regain a sense of overall control and feel positive about resuming work the following day knowing that I was on top of things.

Is email ‘real’ work?

If you listen to Laura Vanderkam’s Before Breakfast podcast, you may have heard the episode in which Laura suggests allotting specific time slots during the day for handling email correspondence.

This is a good idea, as you can then close your mailbox when undertaking other focused activities and avoid the lure of dealing with a quick message as soon as it arrives. In my case, I have switched off notifications and I try to make sure I’ve retrieved anything I need from my mailbox, before embarking on a non-email task.

Interruptions are sometimes welcome, but the reality is that they are such a distraction that we can take some time to recover and re-focus on the task in hand.

That said, email isn’t just ‘noise’. In my organisation, it is “real work” so we can’t ignore it.

Managing the inbox

I’ve written about this before, but when I’m having a proper sprint through my inbox, I’ll intentionally sort received items by Subject. This way, if there’s been a conversation on a particular topic, I can delete all but the very latest message and see the whole trail in one email.

I’m now also much more inclined to press ‘delete’ on as many messages as possible and don’t need to file anything that’s just a casual ‘thank you’ or acknowledgement.

Surely, there are other ways to communicate?

I work in Higher Education, so some of my colleagues with teaching-focussed roles find that handling email becomes even more of a challenge for them, as they aren’t seated at a desk all of the time. Recently, we’ve been discussing how we can improve internal communications to this group of staff, so that they perhaps receive a digest of items on a regular basis, rather than a drip-drip-drip of regular emails.

For my own part, wherever possible, I pick up the phone to speak to someone, rather than sending yet another message.

What do you do in your workplace?

What about personal emails?

I use gmail for personal mail, but I want to avoid it becoming ‘grrr-mail’. I want to read ‘good-mail’!

So, I have deliberately and very intentionally unsubscribed from practically all the marketing emails that I used to receive. This way, the only mail that comes through my virtual letterbox is genuinely useful, informative or necessary.

Listening to one of my favourite podcasts recently, I was struck by a suggestion that a great happiness hack would be to ‘declare bankruptcy’ on a mailbox that had simply got out of hand. Surely, this is the ultimate digital declutter?!  I find the financial analogy amusing but could we (dare we) go that far?

Have you ever done that? However tempting that may be, I don’t think I’d delete an account (or walk away from it), unless I’d really wound it down properly.

P.S.

Of course, the irony of this is not lost on me; I know this post is likely to be coming to you via your own inbox (and I’m glad you’re there!). So drop me a line via email (ha ha!) or reply to this post by clicking on ‘reply’ below. I’d love to hear from you.


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Why it’s important to let our teens fail

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In our family, we have a running joke about timekeeping, which came about because our daughter has always operated in a way that is more lastminute.com than ‘early bird catches the worm.’

The joke is that our teen should never join the emergency services because the siren would sound and she’d be calling, “I’ll be there in a minute!”

Being under-prepared

There is, though, a serious point here. Being unprepared or disorganised not only puts the individual concerned under pressure; it can also place a burden on others.

If your child is late for school and you’re driving her, you’re going to risk being late yourself. At the other end of the day, her having forgotten to take her key means you have to leave work early to go home to let her in.

There are other examples. I wonder if they are familiar to you?

  • Not having the necessary PE kit ready (which puts pressure on others to lend theirs)
  • Discovering the list of ingredients required for a cookery class only on the way to the supermarket to purchase them the night before they are required (meaning we duplicate what we already have in the cupboard because we don’t have time to go home first and measure out the quantities)
  • Having to pay a next-day-delivery charge for a new item of clothing (adds unnecessary cost to a purchase that could have been done many days before)
  • Forgetting to send a calendar invitation for an appointment, then finding that the parent you were relying on to take you now has other plans

In spite of reminders that are intended to be helpful, we still seem to sort things out at the 11th hour. Why?

Safe fails

Yesterday, I was with a very dear friend whose twin boys I am privileged to call my Godsons. As the mum of an older daughter who also has a teenager in the same year as my own, my wise pal pointed out an obvious truth that hadn’t previously occurred to me. That is, every time you sweep in and solve a problem for your offspring, you’re preventing them from having a learning experience.

We need to let our kids fail in a safe environment, so that they are better equipped to cope when we aren’t around to pick up the pieces.

Helicopter parenting

As a working mum, I’ve never hovered over my child, anticipating her every need. However, in wanting to be supportive, it could be argued that I’ve been a little bit too eager to step in to facilitate or solve a problem. In so doing, I’m potentially preventing my teenager from learning a valuable lesson.

Living with the consequences

So, what’s the worst thing that can happen if she doesn’t have her PE kit? In the lower school, she’d have got a detention. In Sixth Form, she might be resourceful, but she’d still have the inconvenience of sorting out the problem herself.

What if she doesn’t have her cooking ingredients? She’ll have to explain herself. This is potentially embarrassing but might make her think twice about not being adequately prepared.

Independence is not neglect

When our daughter was little, we adopted a little saying, “Independence is not neglect.” But I seem to have forgotten this now that she is older. I wonder why?

In spite of this, I am occasionally (pleasantly) surprised. Today, she tells me that she not only completed the short piece of research for her French homework, as required. She printed it 7 times (one for each member of the class and a copy for the teacher). She also provided an English translation on the reverse of each sheet and hole-punched each one so it would slot into everyone’s folder. This was totally unprompted and no-one else in the class had done it. If you can figure that out, you are a better person than I.

Maybe the highly-organised gene hasn’t completely skipped a generation. I’ll live in hope.

Plus, maybe I’ll let the odd thing slip from now on. After all, if we don’t make mistakes, we don’t make anything. And that’s a valuable lesson for us all.


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