British inventor James Dyson’s wealth rose by £2.8 billion last year, propelling him to 14th place in The Sunday Times’ famous Rich List. So how does he do it? One of the ways is by talking to people, rather than wasting time on emails.
‘I get six emails a day. Really. No more than six,’ he told the newspaper. In fact, the man responsible for the bagless vacuum cleaner banned his staff from writing memos 30 years ago and simply transferred his dislike for written communication to digital forms as well. So how can you follow in his freshly vacuumed tracks and read just six emails per day?
1. There’s No Such Thing As An Urgent Email
‘Remember, emails are non-urgent messages,’ executive coach Peter Willis tells RISING. ‘If something is urgent, the sender will pick up the phone. So you know by its nature that an email does not require an immediate response.’
‘Think about it this way: have you ever missed an email that has cost you money or happiness?’
2. Use Filters And Be Selective
‘Use filters in your email to weed out any spam and irrelevant emails,’ fellow executive coach Luke Cunliffe tells RISING. ‘Then, select emails to read based on their title. We need to be more ruthless at work, and in business. We’re too afraid of missing something, but think about it this way: have you ever missed an email that has cost you money or happiness? No, me neither.’
3. Read In Blocks – And Snap Back To It
Researchers reckon it takes an average of 64 seconds to get back to work after reading an email. ‘You can avoid dawdling simply by being more focused, but you can also set aside one or two short blocks of time to read emails, rather than have your inbox open all the time and read messages as they come in,’ says Cunliffe. ‘It’s better to waste 64 seconds once after reading five emails than waste 64 seconds five times after reading five emails individually. Oh, and stay in touch with family and friends on social media rather than via email. You can do this at set times of the day as well – ideally outside of work – so you’re not wasting even more time sending granny Instagrams of your breakfast.’
4. Take Control Of Your Time
‘With emails, you can respond when you’re ready, so you’re in control,’ says Willis. Taking back control over your emails – rather than letting them control you – is key to good time management. ‘Good time management starts with the right mindset. The actions follow on from how you think about yourself, others and your goals. When you’re in a reactive mindset of responding to others, of putting others’ needs first, emails will swamp you. But if you have a proactive mindset – one in which you’re the one deciding what’s important and what’s non-urgent – you’re in control.’
5. Use The Be-Do-Have Model
German psychologist Erich Fromm’s classic Be-Do-Have model illustrates how we should arrange our lives, although few do, claims Willis. ‘To develop this mindset, you need to know what’s important to you – why you’re showing up at work. Most of us grasp at a certain life – a large house, a big car, status – then work back to actions that will give us this. That way of living is highly stressful and inauthentic. But by building our lives around the cornerstones of a strong sense of self, by knowing what our values and beliefs are, our actions and what we subsequently gain – the “have” – leads on from what we are and what we do.’
The author Simon Sinek was inspired by Fromm’s concept and has popularised it online. ‘He uses “why” instead of “be”, and this “why” should be the basis for your goal-setting in work and all aspects of your life. So when James Dyson opens his emails what’s going through his head, on an unconscious level, will be: “Is this email helping me achieve why I work and my current goals?” If it’s not then it’s unlikely Dyson will pay it much attention. If it is – and not many emails should fall into Dyson’s or your own “why” category – then it gets attention,’ says Willis.
‘When you’re in a reactive mindset of putting others’ needs first, emails will swamp you’
6. Act Fast Now Or Leave It Till Later
There are two decisions to make when an email gets your attention. ‘Will it take less than two minutes to reply? If the answer is yes, do it. If not, you need to decide to either delegate it or defer it to a future time. If you do decide to defer it, add it your calendar and make sure you deal with it at the allocated time,’ says Willis. ‘What you don’t want are emails hanging over you like an unwanted relative sat next to you at a wedding dinner.’
7. Box Them Up, File Them Away
Metaphorically speaking, that is. ‘Some emails you trash. Others you will save for reference. And there are others that can go in what time management guru David Allen calls the “someday maybe file”,’ says Willis. ‘You can review this file once a month, or whenever you have the time. The point is that an email is filed and it’s out of sight – it’s not in your inbox. And this is important, as the goal is to have as few emails as possible in your inbox at any one time.’
WHAT NEXT? Watch Simon Sinek’s TED Talk on why you should always start with ‘why’.