As someone who prides herself on getting to inbox zero many Fridays, I was shocked when two women VPs in different coaching groups admitted recently to mass deleting their entire inboxes full of emails to get to inbox zero.
The first woman told us that she wanted to share how she found freedom over the last month as she explained that her inbox usually hovered around 300 emails, but then travel started in earnest in the spring and suddenly she no longer had the energy to keep up with her inbox like she did pre-Covid. As a result, her inbox ballooned to over 15,000 emails and caused so much stress that she couldn’t sleep anymore. When members of the group expressed their shock at the mass deletion, she laughed, “It gets better. I set up an out of office that says I no longer monitor this email box, please call me with urgent issues.” She added that only people who really need something from her have her phone number, so she has a lot more time to focus on the things that need her attention.
The other woman who usually had a lot of pep had been struggling the last two meetings with feeling overwhelmed. She came bounding in the room at our recent meeting and said, “I gave myself a fresh start and deleted the 4,000 emails in my inbox. If it’s urgent or important, they’ll send the email again.”
There is no denying the freedom these two women found in freeing themselves from the crushing weight of their email boxes. There are less drastic things to try if you’re feeling overwhelmed right now– and I know many of you are. Here are a few ideas my clients tried recently that worked.
1. Relinquishing Others’ Problems
One of my clients said she no longer felt joy about her work like she once did and admitted that nothing had really changed at work. I asked her to tell me about the people around her at work. she shared about each person and the trials going on in their lives. The words she used told me that she had picked up each person’s burden and carried them as her own, instead of allowing them to solve their own problems. When I asked her how to solve the problems, the light bulb went on and she said, “Those aren’t my issues to solve.” BINGO! She told me she was going to leave the problems right there in the room. Going forward, she was going to see if she could listen to the problems, show empathy, and leave the problems in her colleagues’ capable hands. If not, she will turn to boundaries to help her maintain the joy she felt coming back at the end of our session.
2. Keep, Delegate, Toss
Another overwhelmed coaching client complained that her calendar had become unwieldy. She already tried cutting meetings down to 25 and 45 minutes depending on the topic; however, it didn’t help free up time. This time, I challenged her to go through her calendar and identify what to keep, delegate or toss. When she did this, she realized there were other team members in some meetings that she didn’t need to be in. Instead of removing those from her calendar, she made them a different color to keep the time from being scheduled. She would let her staff know to stop by after the meeting for a short debrief. She decided to toss some lunch meetings she had during the month. Those originally were a fun way to connect with her peers; however, they had become more of complaint sessions and no longer brought enjoyment. By doing this exercise, she found about 10 hours a week to give her time to work on strategic projects.
3. Color coding or Folder Organizing
Two different clients were overwhelmed by their inboxes and the mass delete idea didn’t feel right to them. Instead, one decided to color-code her emails based on the amount of time it would take her to address it later. The other client did a similar thing and moved the emails into folders based on time, so 5-minute tasks went in a 5-minute folder; 10- minute tasks went in a 10- minute folder; etc. This way when they had some time open up in their schedules, they could open an email based on the time they had available.
The truth is that feelings of overwhelm won’t change until we do something different. Sometimes it takes a bold move like mass deletion to get to inbox zero for us to free ourselves and sometimes it takes something less drastic and equally effective.