My unread message badge can be scary sometimes.
See they call it a “Badge” in iOS. (the software that Apple created to live in iPhones and iPads) A badge. Like it’s some kind of mark of honor to display in front of you every time you slide the unlock button on your phone. A big red scary circle telling you how many emails you will never answer, how many voicemails you’ve ignored, how many Facebook-Tweet-Vines you haven’t looked at, and don’t forget the text messages that all came in at the same time asking you why you aren’t at staff meeting yet.
I have realized that those big read dots and the “dings” and the “toots” that pop up every time there is something new for me to respond to are counterproductive to actually being productive in ministry. If I’m actually going to impact the life of the person who is sitting across from me at the table, the last thing I need to a ding or some cute text-tone I paid $1.79 for in the app store. What I need is a clear focus on the things that are important so that I can do my job.
Here’s what’s NOT important. Your inbox.
I get it. The stuff that is actually IN your inbox might be important, but if you spend the bulk of your day clicking “send/receive” or refreshing your gmail page in hopes of finding a new message to react to or respond to as if new emails are some kind of validation that your job is important, then you need to refocus on why you’re in the position you’re in.
You’re inbox, or rather INBOXES (don’t kid yourself, Facebook, Twitter, Text Messages, and Voicemails are ALL inboxes.) are all meant to be a temporary storage space for you to place or find items that need to be acted on, delegated, dumped or shared.
For the longest time, I felt that every email needed to be answered as they came in, as soon as they came in. But that’s not true, don’t be held hostage by your inbox. The goal isn’t to sit down and reach INBOX ZERO every time your phone or desktop summons you to what someone else deems important. The goal is to become an inbox HERO, and learn the art of making your email work for you and your ministry.
Here are some quick steps I took toward managing my email inbox:
1. Turn off notifications and alerts as much as possible. – On my iPhone I turned off as many of those little red badges as I could. I no longer have them around for items that summon me to respond every minute of the day. I have no indicator of unread emails, Facebook posts, tweets, etc. I only have my text message notifications turned on because it ‘s an easy to communicate with my wife throughout the day, but other than that I only check these other apps when I need to or want to.
2. Only process email when you’re ready to respond. – I schedule 2-3 times a day for myself to process my inbox. At the start of the day I open up Gmail and start reading. I look for the most important ones first and go from there and I only allow myself a certain period of time to do so. If it’s actionable right away then I do it. If it needs to be turned into a task or a project, I forward it to Evernote or Things. If it needs to be delegated, it’s forwarded with a note attached with clear instructions. Any other actions happen fairly quickly. I typically do this as soon as I come in to the office, right before lunch, and at about 3 or 4pm.
3. Use the tools and apps to help you sort through email faster. – Here is a quick list of apps I use to help me clear the inbox quicker:
Boomerang – This is actually a great app that works in Gmail. It allows you to schedule emails to be sent later, be reminded of emails you sent that haven’t been responded too, and gives you easy follow-up reminders.
Bananatag – It’s simply a “read receipt” app that lets you pick and choose which messages you want to keep track of. Did someone read your email? Did they click the link you sent? This keeps track of that stuff very easily.
Rapportive – This is a great app that works in Gmail. It gives me a complete contact profile of everyone I email. On the side bar I can see any social media accounts attached to a particular email, receive emails we have exchanged with each other, and an area to keep quick notes for the next time we talk or message each other.
Dispatch – This is my favorite iOS email app because it is SO multifunctional. Through this one app I can turn your email into a task in Things or Omnifocus or most any other “to do” app. I can also turn your email into a calendar item, Dropbox file, Evernote note, reminder, draft file, text message and much more.
Mailbox – I tend to use this app more for my non ministry related email accounts. Mailbox allows you to dump email fast or move it to be dealt with in a few hours, the next day or the next week.
Sanebox – This is the newest app I’ve been trying out. Sanebox reads your emails and as it learns more about you, it learns where to stick your email. The important stuff goes in the inbox, and the stuff you need to check later goes in the “SaneLater” folder. Very handy app and I look forward to learning it some more.
4. Automate the Important – In ministry we tend to send out the same type of emails or dispense the same information over and over for brief periods of time. Whether it’s an important clarification of vision or down to the minute details about ministry trips or programs. Keep this information close by so that you can plug it into your emails quickly. For the longest time I used text file and word docs to keep these responses filed somewhere so that I could simply cut and paste my response. Lately I’ve been using Text Expander and Drafts, but I’ll talk more about those tools when we dive into Automation.
I know that making some serious changes to your inbox strategy is difficult. But if we just take the time on the front end to make some changes that will positively effect our work, so that we can then pay more attention to people we will feel better about the impact we are making.
Merlin Mann (Podcaster and reluctant productivity icon) once said “I sometimes wonder if the reason some people find it so hard to get anything accomplished is because they haven’t gotten picky enough about their time.”
I believe that’s true. Quit wasting time trying to win the email game and getting to inbox zero; focus on what matters and use the tools available to so that you can effect more lives. At the end of our time on earth there won’t be a red badge on your tombstone showing everyone your unread message count.