Follow the Leaders
“Less Doing” was the theme of this year’s VACEOs Retreat, and there’s no better expert on the subject than Ari Meisel. The founder of Less Doing, Meisel is a self-described “overwhelmologist” who helps entrepreneurs find focus, flexibility and freedom in their work. His methodology enables founders to become replaceable so they can scale their business.
During his workshop at this year’s Retreat, he asked the audience, “What are some of your biggest productivity challenges?” No surprise: Many members in the audience reported managing email as problematic.
Here are a few email tips we gathered from Ari’s presentation. What techniques do you use to manage your inbox? Leave us a comment. We’d love to hear about them!
“Email is a transactional communication,” says Ari. “Internal conversations tend to be exactly that – conversations, brainstorming, ideas, arguments. That’s why, when people try to use email, we get the 20 BCCs and forwards. It’s just not designed for it. People don’t use email very well to begin with. Using it for internal communication is terrible.”
To maximize our productivity, we need to stop unnecessary email from getting into our inbox in the first place. The best way to do that is by not using email for things we’re not supposed to use it for, says Ari. He suggests using at least four communication tools for different internal communications needs.
There’s a tool for every job, and Ari suggests you have these four, at minimum, in your toolbox:
For daily check-ins and conversations, Ari is a big fan of Voxer. “Every morning in our company, at 8:00 a.m., there’s a message that pops up in our Voxer group, and it says, ‘Hey team, time to check in. What are you going to work on today, and what’s your biggest obstacle?’”
Ari also suggests a tool like SLACK. Use it for conversations that aren’t brainstorming and not really conversational. Use it to share things people need to know. Ex: “Hey everybody, make sure to respond to our recent Facebook post.”
Lastly, you need a place where things get done. That’s important, because once you’ve decided something needs to get done, it needs to be removed from the communication stream and put into a project management space – a place where things get accomplished. “Trello is my choice for project management,“ says Ari.
So you’ve got your communication tools in place to help with internal communications. Great! But, of course, you can’t stop the emails from coming in. Your productivity will soar if you learn how to streamline your sorting process when they do. First step? Make a dramatic change to your folder structure.
According to Ari, you only need two folders: Archive and Optional. “The inbox is the place where work should happen. That’s the Zen place. Then there’s the Archive in Outlook and Gmail, which is not garbage. It’s not deleted, it’s not gone – it’s just not in inbox. Everything else goes there. You need one other folder – the Optional folder.
To keep your email streamlined and your energy focused on the essential, it’s vital that you create an automatic method to filter messages to your Optional folder.
“In Gmail, it’s called a filter,” says Ari. “In Apple, it’s called a rule. It’s a very simple rule. It says that if an email enters your inbox and has the word ‘unsubscribe’ in it, it should skip your inbox and go right into the Optional folder. That usually takes care of about 62% of the emails that come into your inbox.”
“I know some of you are thinking, ‘But there’s that newsletter I love reading!’ which is fine,” Ari says. “It’s going to be there in the Optional folder. And you get into a habit, because our brains are not quite there with the technology, when you click on the Optional folder – which you might do once a day, or maybe once a week – and you’re now in “optional” mode. You know there’s nothing essential in there, so you can go through those Facebook updates, newsletters, ‘Oh yeah, I’ll read that,’ much faster. It’s a stress-free environment, and the inbox gets filtered for you.”
Ok, most of our messages have been filtered and moved. But we’ve still got messages in our inbox. Now what?
Delete: Ask yourself, “Do I really need to respond?” “Something like 42% of the emails we reply to don’t require a response,” Ari explains. “If you’ve ever found yourself sending an email that says, ‘Got it’ or ‘Hey, thanks,’ don’t do that. There’s a boomerang effect in email: The more you send out, the more you get. We can get better about saying no. And sometimes ‘no’ is just you see it and you don’t respond to it.”
Deal With It: The second decision is deal with it. “Dealing with it could include a little Subset D, which is to delegate it,” say Ari. “If you can deal with something right now – like within the next three minutes – deal with it right now. I don’t know where we got this concept that something’s going to magically change three minutes later.”
Defer: (not to be confused with procrastination): Deferring is making an active decision and deciding that there’s a better time to do some things. “If you look at deferring as a way to decide that there’s a better time and place that you’re going to do things, it becomes really empowering for you,” Ari reveals.
Start using this decision-making matrix each day and watch your productivity soar!
*Source: Ari Meisel Workshop, VACEOs Retreat 2019