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Email Anxiety

Confession: I hate email. I find it overwhelming and anxiety-inducing, especially after not checking it for a couple of days. My conditioning leads me towards anxious-avoidant, so while those notifications tick up, up, up, my anxiety ratchets up in equal measure. As Jung stated, “What you resist not only persists, but will grow in size” (which is commonly abbreviated to “What you resist persists.”). Logically, I know I am going to continue to feel anxious until I tackle my email, but what does “tackle my email” even mean? I’ve heard about this concept “Inbox Zero” or “Email Zero” and it’s always been my goal, even though I never really defined it. It’s like when my mind and body are faced with the immediacy of anxiety; I relieve it by telling myself that I’ll deal with it tomorrow. I then envision Future Siena’s empty inbox and it lulls me into a sense of calm. It’s false relief though, because tomorrow I’m not going to magically have the tools to deal with a currently unmanageable problem. So what’s the solution? I need an easily repeatable system for dealing with emails… let’s consider Merlin Mann’s “Inbox Zero.” I recommend watching/listening to the talk he gave at Google: Basic ideas

  • Your goal should be an empty inbox, which means, you need an easily repeatable system for processing your inbox to zero. Ask yourself, “what action(s) do I have to take as a result of this email?”

  • Convert emails into actions and keep track of them in a “next action” list (keep track via paper and pen, word document, task app, etc.). Also create a “waiting for” list to keep track of delegated tasks.

  • For each email you receive you have the following action options:

    • Delete/Archive

    • Delegate (which requires a follow up system for keeping track, like a “waiting for” list)

    • Respond (can you keep emails under 5 sentences?)

    • Defer (create a system for revisiting deferred email, like a folder you regularly check)

    • Do (especially if it will take less than 2 minutes)

  • Pick a specific time (or times) of day to sit down and process emails. Avoid checking email on your phone when you have no intention of processing to zero.

Potential pitfalls

  • Back-dated email guilt. Before you can get good, you need to stop sucking. Merlin suggests Email DMZ: create a folder called DMZ and put all your current inbox emails in there. Process the DMZ emails in dashes (recommend setting a timer for 10 minutes) and apply the process to new inbox arrivals.

  • Do not let an email sit around without a reason; that is how procrastination starts.

  • Turn off email notifications, and instead, schedule time(s) to process your inbox to zero.

I’m curious- what’s your process for managing email? More information about Inbox Zero:

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