Downloading Email — Caution!

email-icon.jpgA critical strategy in achieving the goal of a Zero-Inbox is to gain control over the flow of email into one’s Inbox.  This is accomplished by turning off the auto download feature, and scheduling times in the day to review email.

That makes sense.

But when should a user decide to download his/her email?  Should it happen when the Inbox is empty?  Or should it happen before?

From my experience, what I have noticed is that making the request to download email is a significant act to take.  That insignificant-looking click leads to a number of things happening very quickly, that leads me to think that it should only be taken when the time management system is stable, if at all possible.

When the Send/Receive button is clicked, here is what happens.

Time demands from all over one’s life come tumbling into one’s consciousness.  Right alongside the junk mail is a message from the friend who is undergoing chemo, the request for early payment on the invoice, a bill from your credit card company, an interesting newsletter, a request for information you think you already sent and your itinerary for your next business trip that contains two errors that need to be fixed before you fly out tomorrow.

Downloading email is like going to a meeting and passing around a blank sheet of paper, asking people to write down stuff for you to do once the meeting is over. It is an action that is essentially a request for new time demands.

One thing we learned from grade school is that it’s  a good idea to finish what you are doing before starting anything new.  In other words, while it may be impossible to complete all time demands residing on your lists and on your calendar before downloading email, it is possible to delay the download until your time management system is in a “steady state.”

What does a “steady state” mean?

This is that very temporary state in which all your time demands have been processed and placed exactly where you want them.  Some are on lists.  Others are in schedules. A few have been tossed.  Several have been stored.

The point here is that none of them is sitting around in place it shouldn’t be — namely, in one of your capture points, waiting to be emptied.

It’s a mistake to put more items in your capture points while it still has items to be processed. While new email is convenient to download, and only a click away, it has the potential to disrupt a user’s peace of mind with each click when their time management system simply isn’t ready to receive the email.

The next thing that happens depends on us.  Before requesting the download, do we set enough time aside to process each of the time demands?  (This isn’t the same as completing them.)

Peace of mind comes when time is set aside after the act of downloading to process each item, in the practice of what is called “Emptying” in 2Time.

When a user decides to download email, for example, just before leaving the office, they possibly deal their peace of mind a  blow.  The act of pulling down new time demands throws their time management system off-kilter by placing new items in their Inbox,  and their decision to leave it with items sitting and waiting to be emptied could get them in trouble.

The result is that their mind is likely to be thinking about the email they received later that evening, when they either cannot or should not be doing anything about it.

It’s important in the goal of maintaining a Zero-Inbox to see the act of downloading as inseparable from the next step of processing each and every item, and returning the Inbox to zero. The user starts with it empty, and after the sequence is complete, they return it to the null state.

If this sounds like “batch-processing” then it should, because that is exactly what it is.

Our minds, we learn from the experts, are quite weak at switching from one task to another if both require deep thought.  The flow state that is needed takes some 15-20 minutes to enter after a disruption or switch.

The habit of jumping from one task to another in order to check email, answer the cell phone and reply to an instant message destroys peace of mind and wreaks havoc with our productivity.  In other words, it’s far better for us to set aside time that is dedicated to not just reading email, but processing each time demand until the Inbox is empty.

The fact is, the process of emptying an Inbox is one that requires devoted, concentration effort.  The act of “Emptying” is a practice that many users execute poorly, leading to Inboxes that are overflowing and increasingly burdensome.

A user must appreciate that their peace of mind and productivity is deeply affected by the state of their time management system, and that their habits are the key to making sure it’s being run well.