What's in your Outbox?
How long are you able to hold off checking your email on the average day? Do you wait until you get into the office? Do you check it within thirty minutes after getting out of bed? While you're still in bed? Email is like the matrix. There is no escape. Its an established way to know what people want from us or get reminders about what we've forgotten. But there are two components to email. My question is, how often do you look through your outbox?
After months of receiving requests from across my company while navigating a large scale brand refresh, many requests had prerequisites they were waiting on to be done first or were overridden by higher priorities. The continuous buildup of to-dos was crazy. But I've begun to feel a tipping point has reach and I'm pushing requests out the door with greater ease. I've begun referring to this as placing things in my outbox.
As I was driving home last night from spending time with friends, I thought about this and began to wonder, how much time should I spend looking at my inbox to-dos vs reflecting on my outbox as representative of what I've done. How much time did I spend getting real work done vs. culling and responding to messages?
Despite email feeling inescapable most of the time, I'm going to fall back on advice I heard a couple years back from my mother's friend Debbie, "we teach people how to treat us", she told me. Sit with that for a moment.
Do you have a colleague or friend who responds to emails or texts right away? Is there a time when you've reached out to them and they didn't write back within five minutes and started to think, "Where are they? What's wrong? Have I upset them". Now picture the other person. The friend or colleague who takes hours, maybe days on average to respond? While you may wish different of them I bet you have different expectations of these two people.
How much of our ability to get work done is about becoming more efficient vs. retraining people around us regarding expectations? Do we need more time (which, would be nice) or to better prioritize and turn down the noise and urgency around responding. Which fires need to be left burning so others can be tended (h/t Reid Hoffman)?
While many of us do not have completely autonomy of our work lives, I'd suggest we have more than we think and need to investigate first retraining ourselves on these platforms. Once we've figured out our new habits and routines, we can then move onto retraining others, which I bet will give us more time to ship important projects and avoid getting caught up in seemingly urgent distractions.
Go Forth Boldly
p.s. my work just implemented a tool I'm excited try called Groove, which operates similarly to "send later/offline" functions that Outlook and Gmail have. I heard Tim Ferriss once say, "Using these tools are great. Its a way to train people that email is not an instant messenger tool for you." Meaning, if you send something with a to be delivered later time, the recipient will learn you are not an instant responding person and therefore become more patient when it comes to your responses.