Become an Email Jedi in 7 Steps

Jan 27, 2012Find joy today, Work Uncaged, Write!

jediI used to have tons of emails loitering in my inbox. They lurked there, making me feel guilty and stressed out. I don’t think they meant to, but by simply sitting there, they Darth Vader-ed me, heavy breathing and all. Certainly they were in cahoots with the Dark Side, and me, being a mere Padawan, felt helpless against their might. Sometimes they grew as lumborious (yep, made up that word) as slug-like slimeball Jabba the Hut–unwieldy and bothersome.

That is until I read this amazing post by Michael Hyatt, who I would call an Email Jedi of the Highest Order. He cuts away email with the Light Saber of Email Folders. He plays Jedi mind tricks on overwrought emails, responding to them nimbly and with courage. Because of that post, I daresay I’ve graduated to Email Jedi of the Second Order. I’ll joyfully sift through my correspondence saying, “These are not the emails you’re looking for.”

Here are 7 things that helped me achieve Jedi status.

  1. Unsubscribe from loops and lists and advertising of any kind. Choose the very best ones (the most important) and delete the rest. A good Jedi understands the power of focus. I used to subscribe to so many that they choked my inbox. Now when I receive unwanted ads or ezines, I hurry to the bottom of the email and quickly unsubscribe. If I did not subscribe, but someone has “kindly” subscribed me without my permission, I send them a form email that I’ve created in conjunction with a guest post by Laura Christianson of Blogging Bistro about the CAN SPAM laws. She gave me permission to use her well-written instructions. Most people who have received this email have thanked me. They simply didn’t know they were breaking the law by arbitrarily signing people up for their newsletters.
  2. Create compelling form replies for the most common questions you receive. I created several, including the CAN SPAM email. Others include my answers to: How can I become a published author? What’s the difference between self publishing and traditional publishing? What is your mailing address? (I have one for my PO Box and home address.) Will you read and endorse the book I haven’t yet finished? Will you endorse my soon-to-be published book? Can you meet with me so I can pick your brain? Will you please write my book? Would you please critique my manuscript for free? What new author advice do you have? I use Entourage and create this under the Signatures file. I typically personalize my reply, but having the bulk of what I say over and over and over again really helps cut back on my time. Another way to work through your pile of emails is to hire a Padawan, an assistant. A good assistant can sort through for you and forward your form replies.
  3. As often as you can, zero out your inbox. If you have 1000 emails in there, be a gutsy Jedi and declare an email holiday, then delete them all. Seriously, let the fully armed and operational Death Star decimate them. Start fresh. Chances are those people won’t even remember emailing you. From time to time you’ll see me tweet about making my inbox zero. Why? Because it feels awesome! To me it’s like operating with a clean desk. (And I do this without using email filters, as I haven’t figured them out yet!)
  4. Use folders, but don’t become a folder junkie. Let the Folders be with you, but not so much that they’re multiplying like midichlorians. Yes, delegate your emails into folders so you don’t lose track, or you know where they are logically, but don’t create 38 folders. Use just a few. Some of mine include: contact information, tasks, bills, article assignments, receipts, passwords and websites, interviews, speaking, and folders for my latest publishing projects. Keep it simple. Your system must make sense to you, and be a natural extension of your organizational style.
  5. Give yourself grace to respond to emails how you’re wired. Yoda, not everyone is. Nor should you try to be someone that you’re not. Some people set aside three times a day (or four or two or one) to check and respond to email. This works beautifully for them. But me? It doesn’t work. I’m better if I check them throughout the day. I have this strange, clutter-ability brain that thrives on variety. Find what fits you.
  6. Train yourself to make quick decisions. What wasted the most time for me was reading an email, then thinking about it, then not responding and keeping it there several days, then finally writing back with two sentences. I should’ve just responded in the moment. Much like a Jedi wielding a light saber, we must be quick to respond and confident in our choices. I think that’s the key is learning confidence. It’s insecurity that keeps us wavering. In the infamous words of Yoda, “Try? There is no try.” Just do it. Michael Hyatt gives three easy steps in this stage: Do, Delegate, and Defer. And don’t forget the elegant, yet powerful button DELETE.
  7. Keep the human perspective in mind. Even Jedis have friends and relationships. Instead of dreading opening up your inbox in the morning, anticipate it. Wonder afresh who will be contacting you and how you can serve them best. Email is a sweet opportunity to stop a moment and connect with another human being. It’s also one of the best things you do as a business to show respect and care to your customers. Recently I sent an email inquiry to Amazon. The person who received the email responded directly to my request, then alerted another person in the company to respond directly to me. You can bet I felt valued by them. Let’s not forget that all this typing and organizing actually boils down to people connecting with people.

I hope this post frees you up to take control of your inbox. I’ve been so thankful for Michael Hyatt’s post, but learned to reorient his tips to make sense to me. Perhaps soon you’ll become an email Jedi, maybe even this week! May the force be with you.


How about you? How are you an email Jedi? What do you struggle with? Any other pieces of email advice?


{Side note: This post is dedicated to Thomas Umstattd, my website guru, who understands the ways of the Force.}