Liberate Yourself from the Modern World’s #1 Time Waster

Posted on | May 13, 2013 | 13 Comments

The nice thing about being in the Eastern Hemisphere while your corporate office is in the Western one is you have few interruptions during the day. Why? Everyone back home is sleeping.
The bad thing? Your email inbox gets bombarded while you’re sleeping; waking to a flood of email is overwhelming.

I was reminded of this during a recent trip to China. Walking into the day’s first meeting with one of my fellow USA-based colleagues, she grumbled, “This day’s shot before it’s even begun. Last night I got 250 emails.”

“I hear ya,” was my feeble reply.

Then like an angel from the heavens, my colleague and I heard a voice. “250 emails last night?” the voice asked. “I got seven.”

“Wait a minute. Did you just say seven??”

This was all the more meaningful because that angel’s voice was actually the Chief Operating Officer of a multi-million dollar company with operations in 80 countries. Rupert is a business partner and friend, a senior executive with far more responsibility and accountability than most.

“Rupert, how is that possible?” I stammered. “How can you successfully run your business while fielding 97% fewer emails than the rest of us?”

Well, friends, Rupert was kind enough to share his insights with us. I’m only two weeks into following his advice and already my email volume is down 50%+. More importantly, my time wasted – er, I mean devoted to email – is down an equal amount.

Thank you, Rupert, for sharing your insight with RideWithBen’s readers and me!

So here it is, team. Rupert’s carefully written Manifesto for Escaping Your Inbox.

Reduce Email!
A Manifesto for Escaping your Inbox

The Problem
We all spend way too much time trudging through email, the vast majority of which we could easily survive without. Let’s be honest: this is a complete waste of everyone’s time. The result is that we fill our days reacting rather than driving towards our own proactive goals.
It doesn’t have to be this way…

The Basics

1. Short & Sweet
As the message sender, the onus is on you to minimize the time your email will take to process. Your goal is to communicate a point as clearly and succinctly as possible. If the message has to be longer than a 5-6 sentences, break it into bullets or numbered points. If you’re responding to such an email, insert your comments after each point with your initials at the start of each comment (i.e. RH: Agreed).

2. Use the subject line
Make sure the subject line clearly labels the topic and don’t be afraid to change it or start a new thread as the subject evolves. A good subject line tells you exactly what it’s about without having to open the message.

3. A couple of acronyms
There are a few handy acronyms that can be a wonderful act of generosity. FYI (for your information) means that a message requires no response. Alternatively, NNTR (no need to respond) can be added to the end of a message. Many acronyms confuse as much as help, but these two are golden and deserve wide adoption. . If your email message can be expressed in half a dozen words, just put it in the subject line, followed by EOM (= End of Message). This saves the recipient having to actually open the message.

4. Always take action

When you finish reading an email you should always take action: file it if there’s nothing further required of you, respond there and then if it’s going to take less than 2 minutes (and then file it), or flag it / add it to your task list if more extensive work is required. The key is to ensure you never waste time reading an email more than once: Read it, act on it, file it.

When to cut…

5. Cut the notifications
Your efficiency depends on how well you can concentrate. Every time you are interrupted by the notification of a new email, connecting Skype contact or system update, you are momentarily distracted and lose important momentum in what you are doing. Turn them all off and check your inbox when you decide it’s the best time.

6. Cut the CC’s
cc’s are like mating bunnies. For every recipient you add, you are dramatically multiplying total amount of time you’re wasting. Try to avoid hitting ‘Reply All’ and, if you do, don’t be afraid to remove those you think can live without the email string. And remember ‘to’ generally means someone needs to take action, while ‘cc’ is just an FYI so they know what’s happening.

7. Cut the Ps & Qs
If you ever find yourself writing an email saying ‘thanks’ or ‘great’, stop! There’s plenty of time for Ps and Qs when you’re face-to-face or on the phone. With an email saying ‘thanks’ you’ve just cost someone another 30 seconds.

8. Cut the newsletters
How much time do you waste wading through newsletters and service updates you could live without? Unsubscribe to newsletters you don’t read and change your mail settings on your online services (like LinkedIn, airlines, Box, hotels etc.) so you only get the essential stuff.
***Sidenote from Ben: Dare I say, this includes my RideWithBen blog! Honestly, if you are not getting value from it, delete me from your email list, too. Be brutally honest with yourself about what subscription and email notifications are truly valuable to you.

9. Cut the thread
Some emails depend for their meaning on context. Which means it’s usually right to include the thread of previous emails. But if there is more than 2-3 emails in the thread, summarize the situation and cut the thread. You’ll make a lot of new friends.

10. Cut the attachments
Avoid using graphics files in your email signatures as they often appear as attachments. Some of your recipients will waste time trying to see if there’s something to open. Even worse is sending text as an attachment. If it’s simple text, copy and paste it into the body of the email.

When to walk away…

11. Brainstorm offline
Having a creative discussion over email invariably leads to tediously extended exchanges that often last days and rarely produces good results. If there’s a complex problem that needs solving or a creative initiative that requires the opinions of a large group, arrange a conference call or send out a meeting invite.

12. Don’t mail emotion
I’ve seen email make countless difficult situations much, much worse. Try reading an email with an angry tone, a compassionate tone, or a sarcastic tone, and you’ll see how easily the intended tone of an email can be misread and rapidly escalate to an avoidable conflict. When a situation gets emotionally charged, pick up the phone or go round and talk with someone.

Inspired by the The Email Charter from Chris Anderson, Curator at TED.



13 Responses to “Liberate Yourself from the Modern World’s #1 Time Waster”

  1. Sudhanshu Mishra
    May 14th, 2013 @ 5:12 am

    One of the most useful reads I have come across in recent times. I am not unsubscribing from here in a hurry. :-)

  2. Jim Aden
    May 14th, 2013 @ 7:19 am

    Thanks Ben! Great email, one I will keep and no way am I blocking you from my inbox! Wish I had read this years ago when I was still working!

  3. Ben Lawrence
    May 14th, 2013 @ 5:05 pm

    Jim, As long as you keep enjoying the blog then I’ll keep adding to it. You continue to motivate! Welcome to Spring, Mr. Barefoot. Keep logging those miles.

  4. Ben Lawrence
    May 14th, 2013 @ 5:07 pm

    Thank you, Sudhanshu. Good to know you benefit from and enjoy the blog. It’s always nice to read your positive comments :)

  5. Jim Valent
    May 15th, 2013 @ 8:18 am

    If all else fails and you’re completely overcome by emails – delete your whole inbox (very gratifying)…if it’s important, you’ll get a reminder:)

  6. ronnie schmeilski
    May 15th, 2013 @ 9:07 am

    Ben these are great tips. If you don’t mind, I’ll add a few. You’re right, notifications are killers. Too much curiosity. I check my mail 3 times a day. First thing in the morning for emergency/immediate action, take action, put it on a list, or delete it. I batch two things and add to my calendar so that I can dedicate specific time to them; e-mail and phone calls. I spend about 1/2 hr in the morning and about 1/2 hr in the afternoon. If it’s something that needs more time, I put on my calendar and delete it.

    I use a model called PADD—Purpose, Action, Detail and Deadline, it keeps my e-mails short.

    Last, determine whether it’s easier to handle via phone or e-mail; there’s nothing worse than 4 or 5 e-mails going back and forth; sometimes it’s easier to schedule phone meeting or just pick up the phone.

    Thanks for sharing it’s a good reminder of how much time we add to our co-workers days.

    Ronnie Schmeilski

    Those would be my additions. Thanks for sharing, too many e-mails can kill a day and many times have nothing to do with helpin us achieve our long term goals and results.

  7. Oswaldo Runha
    May 15th, 2013 @ 9:56 am

    Great email Ben!! Great tips!! I shared with my clients, co-workers, friends and family. Keep up with the great job. ORF

  8. Chuck Kahl
    May 15th, 2013 @ 10:10 am


    This is a VERY useful piece of information. With your permission, I would like to share this valuable insight with the CEO of our company. I had occasion to sit with him at dinner during a recent conference where the subject of e-mail came up in conversation. The mishandling and abuse of email can be more harmful to organizations than helpful. I find the culture of email and texting is taking a toll on the human connection essential to effective organizations. Email should facilitate dialog, not replace it. Thanks again for sharing this and I will not be deleting you from my inbox!
    Chuck Kahl

  9. Ben Lawrence
    May 15th, 2013 @ 8:30 pm

    LOL! Isn’t that called email bankruptcy? You’re right, Jim. If it’s important you’ll hear again from that person. And I’ll bet fewer than 5% follow up.

  10. Ben Lawrence
    May 15th, 2013 @ 8:34 pm

    Ronnie, Love the PADD formula! Haven’t heard that before but really appreciate that you made the time to share it with us. Clearly you’re getting important stuff done by limiting email time to such a small part of your day. You’ve given me something to strive for :)

  11. Ben Lawrence
    May 15th, 2013 @ 8:35 pm

    Thank you, Oswaldo, for your kind feedback and for passing these tips along to others. The more in your sphere of influence who take this advice the better!

  12. Ben Lawrence
    May 15th, 2013 @ 8:39 pm

    Chuck, Of course you are welcome to share this with any/all you choose. A funny yet related tip I heard that someone in a CEO’s chair might be able to influence: Some companies are removing the “reply all” button from their email systems. Not a bad idea, huh?
    Your comment reminds me: Even in today’s world high tech does NOT replace high touch. Successful people find a way to accomplish both and I have no doubt you’re among them. Best to you and family!

  13. Dennis Sheehan
    May 16th, 2013 @ 5:10 pm


    Always learn something from your blog! Love it.

    Now, must put it into practice…


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    Ben Lawrence Ben's expertise is helping organizations reach their full potential through an empathetic, value-first, challenger-based focus on their customers.  Data analysts want to choke him but entrepreneurial, sales driven, profitable, customer-centric organizations (or those who aspire to become one) love him.

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