email: take control over the chaos


When the first smartphones occurred in my life, I had the feeling: now I am writing emails as formerly SMS! In the beginning I found that great and was proud to answer emails directly. It flattered my ego, when I heard:

“you are so good accessible!”

But- over time this silly use of email dominated my life. All day – often before standing up in the morning – the red notifications called me:

“that’s important – read me – react – now!”

Sounds familiar? Then it’s necessary to win back your life, reject false habits and assign emails the place they belong to!
A sentence at the beginning of the worth reading book by Klaus Raab “we are online – where are you?” woke me up:

emails – the pneumatic post system of modern communication, because it‘s no communication in real time …

Wow! I was caught in the wrong beliefs – wrong beliefs nurtured by the expectations of my profession:

wrong beliefs: reachable – available

The pastor is always at work – and always reachable!
This sentence I heard in my professional training. It leads to a fundermantal misunderstanding.  reachable does not mean available! 
– if someone sends me an email, it reaches me through my email-inbox: I was reachabel.
– if someone calls me and speaks on my voice mail, he has me reached.
– if someone sends me a message – an SMS, a WhatsApp or by faceook-messanger – then this message reaches me.
 Availability is something else: I’m available, if it‘s possible for me to take up the phone, when my phone rings. 
Emails the other hand reach me. They must not immediately be answered. Emails are like letters reaching me by post. The short “checking” of emails will cost me only unnecessarily time and energy – I do not look every 30 minutes to my mailbox at home.

the medium is the message

It’s my duty as pastor to be reachable and to respond in a reasonable period. The period based on the communication channel, which is used:
– calls: like Face-to-Face-communication – probably the matter is urgently! If e.g. a undertaker needs my feedback to nail a Date for a funeral, he calls me.
– short messages: short messages work in real time too – but in my experience they are rarely really urgent.
– emails: because email communication is no communication in Real Time, they can actually never be urgent. Unfortunately they are often used for urgent affairs. Colleagues, looking urgently for a substitute, questions unfortunately often by email other colleagues – probably because with an email at the same time several pastors can be achieved simultanely.
– letters: letters can never be urgently. A letter needs maximum three days to arrive.

These days, you don’t have to treat emails like traditional letters. Every recipient cares only about the concrete information, not the background noise that simply hampers their efforts of getting to the chase. #10stepsbook

differentiation the communication channels: changing habits

To regain my life again. Not to get dictated from the flut of information, what ist now urgent. I do need to develop new habits. But first i have to clarify what significance what kind of communication has:
– telephone calls have for me high priority. I go immediately to the ringing telephone – or as soon as I have free time, for example directly after a conversation I check my mailbox and call back.
– email: can not be urgent. the multiple “check” of emails on the smartphone fills my head only with unnecessary information to which I can not respond appropriately. Therefore i reserve 2-3 periods a day in which i process emails: at the later morning (after i did my Big Rocks), in the afternoon (precaution: maybe somebody used an email for “urgent things”) and evening as part of my evening-ritual (to make sure i can sleep).
 That way i determine the time emails get – and will not from the emails determined!

processing emails: switch in the email mode

email – ready – go: inbox zero

In the film “over the top” the trucker Lincoln Hawk before his competitions brings himselfe in the right mental moode for it by turning his cap backwards: this ritual transformed him in a maschine. The same way we can process emails:

it’s evening. the work is done  now , it is time to process the emails!
In the next hour i’ll do nothing else – only achieve my goal: Inbox Zero! I follow the same system, i always follow – the “getting-things-done method” (GTD) of David Allen. Processing emails follows the same rules as the “processing” any other inbox:

1. rule: top down – touch it once

I start top-down: I do not glance through nor go at wish. I deal with each mail only a single time and decide what to do next.

2. rule: what is it-decision -2 minutes per mail

Tell yourselfe the basic question:  requires this email an action of mine? The following responses to an email requires less than 2-minutes – you can  immediately  do it:
– it’s spam or other email garbage?? then off in the  spam / trash folder!
– it is a info-mail, a Newsfeed or something like this? Normally appropriate filters can avoid that these type of mail get into here! You can read this information later, because they are not urgent. Do you work with an email folder system, move this type of mail in the folder “reading later”. I prefer Evernote, there these mails goes – i deal with this kind of information, when i have time – in the waiting room at the doctor, on a train ride, …  someday / maybe .
– I can answer a email immediately, within two minutes, then do it now. Briefly – I write no novels.
– Or I forward / delegate : a question for a baptizism – and i‘m not responsible? I redirect to the competent colleagues – that is not my project!
The email applies to one of my projects, but i can do nothing: I forward the mail to the competent person – with “BCC” -kopie to my GTD app Nozbe. There this request becomes a part of the corresponding project with the context “waiting for” + “name of the responsible person“ so that I keep track. During the weekly review i will meet this task again.

3. if it takes longer … into the “trusted system”!

If an email relates to one of my own projects, it can become “reference material” – and will stored in Evernote1. Requires the email from me one or more actions, i will transform the mail to a task of an existing project or the topic of the email will become a project themselfe:
3.1 the email concerns me directly and belongs to an existing project: 
I send this type of email per nozbe-email-adress to my GTD system, add the context and possibly the due date. The email client i use generates a link for each email so it’s possible to store this link together with the email text in my GTD program: so I can answer the email interacting nozbe and email client easily: the link turns me to the correct email in the archive folder. During my weekly review i will meet this task again.
3.2 the email concerns me directly, but i’ve still no existing project:
I mail this email to my GTD app, there the mail becomes a new project. Alternative: I sent the email to Evernote and use it as a reference material – in Nozbe i can generate a project out of the Evernote-Note and the related tasks. My GTD app nozbe has – as well as Evernote – an email address.

developing new habits

  1. Make an appointment with yourself at which times you want to process emails a day.  two to three periods  should totally suffice. Stick to this appointment! This helps:
  2. Delete the email app from your smartphone! Or less radically: move the email app from the home screen out of visibility – and  turn off the notifications as well as the news-push.
  3. Check no emails – process them as described above.  processing: touch it once! 
  4. Largest reward: more time for your important things!  If you notice that your new approach helps you to gain more time for your really important things – this will motivate you to stick with your new email habits.
    Here you will find a summary as nozbe-how template.

  1. In nozbe i can attach this Evernote-Note to an project.