Getting My Axe Together


When it comes to managing emails…

I’m pretty good at keeping my inboxes clear (I have two email accounts, one for personal stuff and another for work). A little while ago I had the great idea of creating folders where I could place emails that needed action taken on them; this way I could then deal with those at my leisure and keep my inbox clear.

Since implementing my master plan I now have a total of 834 emails across my two accounts which need some kind of action.


I may as well have just created a new folder called ‘out of sight out of mind’ and just set up an auto-redirect into it from my inbox. It’s the digital equivalent of spending a day sorting a room, only to find that, eight hours later, all you’ve actually done is transferred the contents of one room into another without actually dealing with any of it.

Now I’m a great believer in focussing on what’s most important; but if you’re doing that at the expense of everything else, all you’re doing is creating backlogs elsewhere in your life which take longer and get harder to deal with the longer you leave them.

This is a dangerous habit to have – the less of a handle you have on how much genuine, worthwhile work there is for you to do, the more likely you are to take on other things, which give you even less time to work on your tasks effectively and can lead to massive feelings of overwhem and despair.

And ultimately, the more things you have to do, the more often you are likely to end up having to compromise on time, quality or price.

Striking a Balance

As I’ve mentioned before in my SIMPLE philosophy, I believe the secret to a happy and successful life is balance; which leads me to a quote, much overused and often associated with Abraham Lincoln…

If I had 8 hours to chop down a tree, I would spend 6 of those hours sharpening my axe.

Really? Six hours? If it were me I probably wouldn’t use an axe in the first-place – I’d use a chain saw, get the job done in a fraction of the time and probably spend the rest of it playing my guitar.

Better still I’d hire somebody else to do the job for me and spend the time working on something I enjoy far more, and am much better at, in order to pay them.

Another version of this rather overused quote refers to having five minutes to cut down a tree and spending three minutes of that sharpening one’s tool. Now that’s more like it 🙂

So keeping things in balance is important; and the less time we have to spend doing that, the better. As for my email disaster my intentions were good, but they didn’t work, so now it’s time to try another approach.

My 4 Step Solution

Here’s how I intend to tackle my 834 emails.

Step 1 – tackle them in the order most recent to least recent – this is because the more recent ones are likely to be the most relevant. Older emails may contain information or links that are now out of date and can just be ditched. Also dealing with the most recent messages first may help me avoid OS moments; like reading an email I received a week ago from a potential client asking if I might be free for coffee tomorrow (Oh S**t!).

Step 2 – apply one of the following ‘D’ rules to each mail:

– Do it
– Diarise it (for a SPECIFIC date)
– Delegate it
– Ditch it

…and, whatever I do, I WILL NOT make new folders called these to put the mails into and deal with later!

Step 3 – for each message I will seriously consider applying the 4th, and by far most effective ‘D’ rule:

– Discontinue it.

Did the email come from a shopping site or a person I bought a product from a year ago and haven’t since; or worse, have I been enticed by them to buy other stuff I’ve never got round to using? If so, I will unsubscribe from their emails, reduce my incoming clutter and get rid of any future temptation.

Step 4 – Going forward, apply the ‘D’ rules to each message straight out of my inbox and not waste time reading them and moving them to another folder, only to have to read them again to deal with them later.

If I had to define ‘sharpening the axe’ I would say it would be sharpening my awareness of the need to maintain balance in my life. Doing this often, for a short period of time is the key. That way, the saplings don’t grow into trees in the first place and I can spend a few minutes pulling them out by hand. No hired help to pay for and no chainsaw required; in fact, no tool at all…

…not even an axe.

Now where did I put that guitar???

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