Does your inbox own you rather than you owning it? Over the last six months I’ve been changing my relationship with my inboxes to get back control of my time, productivity and worklife balance. It’s an ongoing battle, and one I feel I am winning. In this episode I share what I’ve done so far, why, and what the benefits have been.
Lee Matthew Jackson
I cover the following:
- Review the problem
- Share what I tried first
- Unpack why that didn’t work
- Look at what is working
- Offer a realistic approach
- Let you know where I am at.
Welcome to The Agency Trailblazer podcast. This is your host Lee, and on today’s show, I’m going to share with you how I am trying to win the “Battle of the Inbox”.
Before we continue, I would like to thank our wonderful sponsors Cloudways they provide managed cloud hosting for agency owners around the world. We trust them with all of our major projects, especially those ones that get the high traffic or those that we just cannot afford to go wrong. You can find out more over on trailblazer.fm forward/cloudways.
So let’s set the scene. Over the last few years, my email has gotten completely out of hand. Now I have multiple emails, the fact I’ve said that is obviously a huge cause for alarm, and I know many sane people have one email for work and one for personal, and that’s great. And actually that’s kind of where I want to be, but it’s not where I am right now. And I wonder, where are you right now with your email?
Do you have one for work and one for personal? Or perhaps the lines have been blurred and you have one inbox for both your personal and business life. Let me know in the comments over on trailblazer.fm for episode number 306. This will be a great conversation.
So for myself, I am the founder of two companies. I’ve got two primary business email addresses and to throw into the mix, I’ve had multiple re-brands. You’ll know this podcast has changed names a couple of times, but equally so have my businesses and so have the projects and brands that I’ve been involved with.
You can imagine that that creates an awful lot of email addresses. I didn’t really need to do that, but there was a vanity that felt I needed to “lee@” whatever brand I had. And this has led to a huge issue where I have multiple accounts with multiple services, so that could be software companies, it could be emails I receive through newsletters, it could be accounts I have even with the bank and they are all with different email aliases. So I’ve got to work inboxes. I’ve got multiple email aliases, all having to redirect to those inboxes, and I also have the personal email account.
Now, the other problem with my personal email account is I’m also getting business email on that. It’s a bit messy, isn’t it? I can imagine there’s a few of you listening, feeling a little bit stressed, but I have this personal email that receives insurance notifications and statements from the bank, all sorts going on in there, which is for the business and equally in my business emails, and I can never remember which one, I’ve got holiday bookings coming in as to when I’m going away.
And we’re really hoping this year that we can go away. It’s been lockdown here for months, but we saw on the news just the other day that there are plans over the next few weeks and months to releive that. And we’re looking forward to hopefully going away in August.
Now, that email probably should be going into my personal inbox and making me feel freaking awesome when I see that on my phone rather than me having to find that within my work inbox and doing all of the necessary back and forth in work time or jumping onto my work email out of hours.
And what I’ve kind of done here is highlighted the massive problem that I have. I’ve accumulated lots of email addresses. I’ve signed up for tons of different services. I’ve lost control of all of the different email addresses that I have. So I have so many forwarding. I get hundreds of emails every single day. And some of them are personal and some of them are business and they just go across all of those different inboxes. I can actually feel the cold sweat as I explain the situation that I’ve created for myself.
But funnily enough, it’s not actually all too uncommon to create such a situation. We often start our businesses with our personal email address and then we shift over to a domain and certain habits are kind of hard to break. When we were in new business, it was normal to be contactable 24/7, to be accessible on our mobile, to be accessible via an email address that was on our phones 24/7. It was kind of a normal thing. But as we develop our businesses and we recognise that there needs to be some form of work, life balance it kind of gets messy.
And I’ve created a hot mess. I want to share with you today what I’ve been trying over the course of 2020 and what I’m continuing to do in 2021. I have not nailed it yet at all. In fact, we’re having some major DNS issues with some of our emails right now, which means we’re not even getting some of those, so that sucks. But I do want to share where we’re at right now where I’m hoping to be and will return to this subject, hopefully, in a few months when all of my hair has grown back that I’ve lost over the last 20 years of email and you’ll all be saying, “Lee is the email messiah, we must copy everything he says”. And of course, I’m taking the mic, but hopefully I will have a great update for you.
So the first things that we have tried at least, was to just disable notifications. I disabled all my notifications on my phone and on my desktop because email in itself was a ridiculous distraction.
You can imagine if we’re getting hundreds of emails and I’m seeing that there is a number of so many in the inbox, my OCD will not let me see that number and I’ll have to start trying to apply inbox zero to it or I’ll have to go and look and move those emails somewhere else in a folder that I’ll tell myself I’ll come back to or just things get really, really messy. So disabling email notifications for me was ridiculously helpful, especially out of hours.
If I saw an email saying that there was a payment had been taken from my business account, that would probably make me feel a little bit stressed at night, especially if I didn’t recognise what that was. And with notifications, you can see the preview of the email on your phone and it gets you to thinking and then you end up jumping on the computer and you can’t relax. And maybe it was a payment that came out that you forgot to cancel and it kind of bugged you and then you can’t get to sleep. I’m describing one of many stories of my struggle with email.
Now, disabling those notifications helped because that meant that my head space was being protected, especially out of hours, but also during the day I wasn’t being interrupted by, “you’ve received a new email” and I could focus on my work.So that was a good first start.
Secondly, I started to unsubscribe. This was a process of getting myself into the habit of just scrolling down to any email that had come in that had an unsubscribe option and just hitting unsubscribe pretty much no matter what, because most things that I am subscribed to are things that I was subscribed to as part of a sign up, they are things that I just don’t read.
Now, there are literally two newsletters on the planet I do actually read and they are both personal. So I moved them over to my personal inbox and with everything else, no matter who it is, I’m just going through the process of unsubscribing because that clutter doesn’t need to be in my inbox and I’m not actually reading it, I’m just filing it and creating work for myself. So and, you know, I’m probably not a great subscriber to anyone’s email list.
And if you subscribe to my email list and you don’t actually read the stuff I send out, then I’d highly recommend you unsubscribe from my stuff as well, because I only want you to get value from it. And I don’t want to be just another noize or more clutter in your inbox. So getting into that habit of unsubscribing has been incredible. It’s taking a very long time. There are lots of third party services that enable you to do this, but I was just getting loads of issues with regards to GDPR, etc. So we ended up just choosing as a business to do this manually. As the emails come in, we hit some unsubscribe.
I’ve been doing this as well in my personal inbox. So you can imagine over the last six months it’s been a long and laborious process. I think I must have been subscribed to at least 10000 different items. I still have to unsubscribe from things on a daily basis, but I believe we are getting there and my inbox is not filling up with 100 random newsletters every single hour. We’re getting maybe 20 to 30 a day now, which is still a ridiculous amount, but is it’s heavenly compared to where it was.
The other thing that I did start to do is use a service called SaneBox and SaneBox kind of grabs all of the emails that you don’t really need to look at straight away and put them into folders so you can go and look at them later. You do, however, need to keep training SaneBox to ensure that it doesn’t put personal stuff or stuff you really need to action into “something to look at later” or class it as an “unimportant message”. So sometimes I’d find invoices being filed into “read later” or into the “newsletter section” and I had to retrain SaneBox. So it did actually create a lot of work. And although SaneBox was great, it kept my core inbox as close to empty as possible throughout the day. It still created tons and tons and tons of admin for me to go through, checking all of these sub folders to make sure I hadn’t missed anything, but also to go and maybe unsubscribe from things that I didn’t need to be receiving.
I ended up cancelling with SaneBox and just going through the consistent unsubscribe method. If I receive a notification from an account that I don’t use anymore, I’ll go ahead and delete that account and unsubscribe. And if I get a newsletter, I’ll go ahead and unsubscribe from that newsletter.
Now, these are some pretty good activities and I was pretty much heading in the right direction, but these didn’t necessarily get to the root of the problem. The root of the problem being way too many email addresses coming to me, way too many inboxes, and that issue of the work and personal separation. I still had multiple email addresses being forwarded to several inboxes, and they all still had that blend of personal and work and of course, plenty of spam.
So what I’ve been doing over the course of the last month, and this is going to continue probably for the next couple of months or so, is re-evaluating everything that we are spending on as a business so that I can ensure that business emails are going through to the right place, and they’re using my up to date a business email address. We’re removing one of my business inboxes so that we will just have one inbox for both of my businesses. And I can just do some clever filing to ensure that emails related to either company are filed accordingly.
So that means I’ll have one business account with everything with my current domain Agency Trailblazer and Event Engine, coming into that one centralised work based email address, which will be lovely as one place to go and check rather than multiple. I’ll also be disabling over time all of those other redirects, once I am 100 percent certain, I’ve I’ve gone to every account that I can possibly own on the planet and updated or deleted to ensure that the email address is current.
What I’ve also done is removed my old personal email and I’ve set up a brand spanking new one. There’s nothing like a healthy new personal inbox that hardly gets anything because hardly anybody knows it exists. I’ve gone through everything that I know I’m spending personally. That was super easy. I just went and had a look at my personal PayPal. I also had a look at the bank and had a look as well in my own personal inbox of notification emails of things that I’d signed up for so I could just go ahead and make sure that I updated all of the personal stuff to point to the new email address, and then I could just forget about the old crazy place that I had created and delete that account.
So right now, I’m still getting tons of emails, especially in the business. We’ve got a few DNS issues once we’ve merged everything together. So that kind of sucks. I’ve missed a few emails over the last 24 hours, but that’s been kind of nice at the same time because it given me that that experience of not having too many emails. And it’s a great experience, I can tell you that for sure.
And finally, experiencing that work and personal life separation, none of the work email now comes to my phone or in any way gets past 4:00 pm Monday to Friday. I am not in my work email whatsoever and then anything else I’m doing, shopping online, etc, etc. That’s all going to the new personal email that nobody knows about. It comes through to my phone as in when I want it and I feel like I’m separating the two. I’ve got my work and I’ve got my life.
And I still have a way to go, there’s still too much stuff coming to my business inbox that I need to sift through. Still got those technical issues that I need to sort out, but I am starting to experience a real separation between the two. Very often I’ve heard the phrase “work life blend” and that kind of sounds cool and fun, and I was actually really attracted to that idea. But as my own mental health has suffered over the years and especially over 2020/2021, during lockdown, etc, I’ve actually come to recognise that at least for me, there actually needs to be a real separation.
If you listen to the episode where I talk about why I’ve left social media at a personal level, you’ll understand that for me and for my mental health, I kind of need personal space, family and friends. And then I also need my work space and the colleagues and the friends and associates that I have in that space. And to keep those two separate are very, very helpful for my mental state.
It stops me from thinking about work 24/7. It stops me from stressing out in the middle of the night about something because once 4pm hits, I know this is now my time . This is family time. This is relaxation time.
During all of this experience, one crazy thing I’ve also learnt is that an email client is a really useful. I know it sounds nuts, a lot of us like to use, say, our Gmail interfaces or whichever online web application we’re using. But when I started using Thunderbird last year, again, number one it took me down “Nostalgia Alley” because it was beautiful to use the old interface that I was used to as a teenager. But it also allowed me to organise my emails more effectively and to switch off from email.
With my emails via the web. I was getting web notifications. I usually had email open in some sort of manner, on a tab, etc., So I was always in and out of my inbox using Thunderbird as an email client allows me to switch off emails and that’s kind of a mental switch off for me as well.
I’ve started to realise I’m probably quite a visual person and I need to do some form of action to help my brain say, “oh, yeah, we’re turning off from email now”. So I’ll go ahead close that Thunderbird and then I will focus on some work. At the end of the day as well. I’ve taken to shutting down my PC.
I know you Mac users claim your your Mac has never been rebooted forever. And I remember doing that too. And it’s like a mark of being the coolest person on the planet. And I respect you for that. But for me, the act of actually shutting down allows me to mentally say I have shut down from work today and I’m now chilling.
All right. So I’m kind of going off topic, but I hope some of this is helpful because remember, the mission of Agency Trailblazer has always and will always be to help you to build an agency that you love, be you a freelancer, be you the owner of an agency with multiple team members.
And we’re not all about you making ridiculous amounts of money and being super successful in that manner and having flashy cars, all of which will be wonderful I am sure. What we are about is helping you with things like your mental health or the work life balance with creating a solid and a stable business rather than trying to sell you snake oil. We’re not about that. We never have been. I hope you enjoy this sort of content. I hope you enjoy these sorts of rambles.
If you do head on over to trailblazer.fm, come over to episode number 306. Tell me what your struggles with email. Tell me what your biggest takeaway is. Give me advice, please. You can hear in my voice I am sure that I am still battling the inbox and any tips, any services, any other systems, mindsets, whatever you got, hit me with it over in the comments on trailblazer.fm head on over to episode number 306, I’d like to close by thanking our wonderful sponsor Cloudways you can find them over onn trailblazer.fm/cloudways
Also, be sure to check the show notes for the “Agency Partner Programme” where you will get extra benefits being a part of that. So go ahead. Check that out, folks. If we do not see you in the comments on the website trailblazer.fm, then how about we see you in next week’s episode?