One of my favorite books for business (and life) advice is Stephen Covey's "7 Habits of Highly Effective People". Although I've never reached the goal of "Effective Person", there are many useful nuggets of wisdom.
One of the best parts of Covey's book is found in his example of the seminar speaker who challenges his audience to fit as many rocks as possible into a glass jar. For the full story, go to http://superperformance.com/bigrocks.php . In the story, the "big rocks" represent those things in our life which are most important – family, our calling/vocation, exercise, charity, etc. The small rocks are those things which are less important, but tend to fill our day – tv, internet (facebook!!!), most email, etc. The short version is that we should prioritize getting the "big rocks" in the jar first, as opposed to filling it up with all the random little rocks and leaving no room.
I am definitely feeling the urge to apply this principal to email. At present, I have about 20,000 emails in Outlook, and roughly 2,000 unread. I am starting to wonder: If I could only respond to 10 emails per day, which would they be? (I know there are folks out there who believe that I already ignore all but 10… Sorry for not getting back to you sooner.) Which ones are the "big rocks", and which are the "pebbles"? Like the 20-minute meeting I discussed in my last post, this 10 email exercise could prove interesting.
Whenever I get overwhelmed with email, I think back to the last two jobs that I – ahem – "left". When I was VP of Sales at Front Porch Classics, the company got acquired. I was quickly identified as a redundancy (how had I remained hidden so long???). At the time, I was getting roughly 80 emails per day. On the very last day of my employment, I remember being completely stressed out about answering every last email. How would the new team follow up on these leads? How would my contacts know where to find me with questions? What about the paperwork that was due back to Retailer X???
And just like that – BAM! My email was shut off the next day, and there was absolutely nothing I could do about it. Zero. Radio silence. The first few days were like a shock to the system. I actually spent time with my family. Caught up with old friends. Laid a respectable tile floor in our family room.
Then, slowly, my old contacts and I started to find each other. I started getting an email or two each day to my new inbox. Then four or five. By the time I took the next job at Cranium, I was probably back up to ten emails a day with the old cast and crew of my professional life.
Fast forward a year, and the same thing happened again. Hasbro buys Cranium, Maggio's email gets turned off, and away we go. A little less stressed this time, but still…
Now I'm back up to 80-100 per day, and feeling like it's out of control again. I just have to remember how many of the thousands of unanswered emails I had on file at both Front Porch and Cranium still haunt me today. A few, maybe. A key account contact gone MIA, a great sales idea, a cool process outline. Probably less than 25 emails that make me think "Darn, I wish I still had that one!" But outside of that, not much.
So go ahead – limit your response to 10 emails today. Focus on the "Big Rocks". Let the rest slide. Or better yet, stick 'em right in the recycle bin. Because at the end of the day, everybody moves on – whether they want to or not.