Our broken relationship with email and how to reach inbox Nirvana

Our broken relationship with Email   

Everyone is a slave to the inbox. We fought Nazism and Soviet Communism to be free and yet have allowed email to become our master. I am being melodramatic, but, what was once an amazing productivity tool has become most destructive productivity tool in the office.

So, first, let’s assess the problem with emails.  

  • We all get too many – it never seems to end.
  • We are always on – we respond to emails at nine, ten and eleven o’clock at night.
  • We use email instead of phoning – instead of a 2-minute call we spend 20 minutes writing an email.
  • We read them once, twice, three times before acting – we read an email, then again, then again and finally maybe do something with it. Maybe.
  • We do not create and set rules for the inbox and our relationship with email – email is done in a haphazard way and with a real process.

We can all be guilty of the above. Essentially all of these items are really important in the reason why our inbox takes over our lives and destroys our productivity and be addictive.  

The Inbox addiction

 The addiction can manifest themselves in all sorts of crazy and mad ways that people deal with email. You have the ‘1001 folders people’, the ‘1001 emails in my inbox people’, the ’email is Facebook messenger people’ and ‘always emailing all the time even at 11:30 at night people’.   

Whatever person you fit into above the thing to remember is that email is addictive because it creates a dopamine hit (the happy chemical) that is similar to other fun and addictive behaviours like sex, gambling, alcohol, and tobacco.

Indeed, they are called Crakeberries for nothing! So whatever stress email gives you, you may find that you also at a deep neurological level get a hit from it that you like and in some short-term way, you enjoy.   

So how are we going to deal and change our relationship with our emails and ultimately change the way that we work within and without the inbox? Firstly, we have to understand what our email is for and what it is not for.

What is an Inbox for?

Electronic Mail was essentially created as a replacement for the letter and internal memo during the cold war to ensure that nuclear missiles could be launched. Over time it morphed into something that has become a weapon of mass productivity destruction. 

Email exists to spread information and communication that needs:

1) an audit trail,

2) cannot be done face-to-face or over the phone,

3) are non-urgent/time specific and

4) communications that needs to be done on an a one-to-many basis.

So, for recruitment the Inbox and Email is for: Submitting CV’s, Sending terms of business, confirming interviews, marketing to clients, candidate applications.   

What it is not for: negotiating terms of business or offers, seeing where people want to go for after work drinks, your amazon orders, etc. To rectify this situation, we have outlined 13 actions you can take that will change your relationship with email for ever.  

13 Actions to reach Inbox Nirvana

Stage One: Getting into good habits

 1:  Process to Zero: You need to start with a clean slate. So even if this take you an entire day to do, process every email. When processing you need to follow this workflow.   Read email. Is action required Yes or No. No – Archive or delete. Yes – Action is needed. Actioned needed. Will it take 2 minutes?

Yes – Do it now. No – put it into the action folder and add to your to-do list.   Repeat until you hit inbox zero. What I suggest is that you pause your inbox for 45-minute bursts. Do 45 minutes of processing to zero, unpause the inbox let the messages get sent out and then get a coffee and repeat the cycle until you hit zero.   

2: Delete all (almost all) folders: Folders are just a place for storing brain farts. I have eight folders, and an archive folder. Email search facilities are so good in Google inbox and Outlook that when you search you will find what you are looking for, so why have a folder for every client?

Just type what you are looking for in the search bar the most important folder is the action folder and this is the folder that you use for all the stuff you cannot do instantly. This means all you must do is archive once read and it will never trouble you unless you need it.   

3: Batch emails: two, three or four times a day you need to batch you emails and get back to inbox zero. So, at 8am, 12midday and 4pm work on each email and the inbox until it is down to Zero. Now I know that a lot of people will be horrified by this idea. What if I miss a candidate before a competitor?

What if I miss a role? They are legitimate questions, but my response would be, wasting time in your inbox is time that could be sent getting and find exclusive roles and exclusive candidates, so the time pressure does not matter.  

Stage two: becoming more effective

 4: Candidate emails: When candidates make applications to your inbox they should straightway be process onto you ATS as an applicant and then dealt with at the appropriate resourcing time. No further action is needed.   

5: Eliminate 90% of internal emails: A huge amount of wasted email time is from internal emails. At the last place i worked, I went on holiday and came back to 35 emails about birthday cards and leaving cards. 35 emails. Total waste of time. If you have the power, move internal coms to Slack or Facebook for Work or just talk to the person.   

6: Templates: 80%-90% of emails can be dealt with by, or close to a template. Depending on your email system templates will save a bucket load of time. I use Google Inbox. It is an investment in time to create them, but once created the time benefit compounds.

Additionally, if you share the templates with the rest of your team company, what maybe took you a day to create, format and edit could be saving that each and every week or more.   

7: Call instead of email: When processing to zero, call instead of email, whenever you can. If you speak to the person that is great and will normally take two minutes. If you cannot leave a voice-mail and then just respond to the email and say I have left a response via email.  

Stage 3: Creating marginal gains

 8: Be ruthless: Unsubscribe, unsubscribe, unsubscribe. Make sure that you unsubscribe to all the nonsense you are getting. Ask yourself, does this email newsletter help me bill more money? Thought not.   

9: Use language that eliminates emails: Not all emails need to be responded too. Indeed, not all emails you send need responses. So use language and writing that, when needed eliminates the quick responses that people send and fill up your inbox. So for example instead of saying “Are you happy for me to go ahead” say “if I have not heard from you by 4pm I will go ahead and xyz”.   

10: You need rules: It is your inbox and it is your time. So, you need rules and processes on how to deal with email, how it fits into the other areas of your job and how you work with it.   My rules are: 1) Email is not my workflow. 2) Batching 4 times a day 3) Do not look at emails after 7pm 4) when not batching turn the inbox to pause or silent 5) Inbox zero before I stop work.   

11: Holiday emails: When you go on holiday process everything before you leave. Then put your out of office on with the following message. “I am out of the office on holiday. I will be returning on xx date. Your email is important to me.

However, after annual leave I can so many emails I miss the important ones. If you can re-send this email on the xx date. If this cannot be delt by then, please call xxxx” This works, because if it is super urgent, the sender will call. If it is nonsense they will forget and if it is important they will email back.   

12: Don’t sell via email: Just don’t do it. Call.   

13: Turn email off: If you are a decision maker, turn the email off between 7pm and 7am. Nothing is that urgent. If it is that urgent then a call or text will be sufficient.   

These 13 actions I hope will help you to make the most of your time, but also to allow you to leverage your time for the benefit of clients and candidates. If you think you were not able to do any of the above because of internal “processes” or culture, ask for forgiveness, not permission.

You will be amazed how forgiving people are when it works.   


As ever we would love to hear what you have to say. Feel free to email joseph@thenakedrecruiter.com about your thoughts on this or any other topic.

The Naked Recruit is funded through our affiliate link program with Acuity Scheduling.

It is a tool that has saved me dozens of hours.

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