Jedi Productivity 5 of 11: Han Solo’s guide to Getting on top of the Email Inbox (a.k.a. Jabba the Hutt)

This post is part of the Star Wars Jedi Productivity blog post series.  There will be 11 posts coming weekly every Tuesday for… yes… just counted it… the next 11 weeks.  These posts will guide your journey from a wilful, novice young pretender who is controlled by time…  into a magnificent Jedi who uses time as her own power.  The full set of posts are available from here.

The average corporate worker receives 110 emails per day.  I cite the study in an old post called 6 Ways to Ensure Your Email Gets Ignored.  Between meetings (here’s rules for running effective meetings) and exchanging emails you could easily spend your whole working day in complete responsive mode: the world running your life, not you running your life.

Han Solo’s guide to Getting on top of the Email Inbox (a.k.a. Jabba the Hutt)

“I am so busy” everybody’s excuse

Rule #1: Email is all about other people’s priorities.

Rule #2: You cannot change people’s minds via email.

Rule #3: Email is NOT Leadership Activity.

If you are trying to sell something – to your boss, to your colleagues, to your clients, to a supplier – email is a very poor medium.  You must get face to face or, failing that, get on the phone.  You need synchronous communication to be able to influence effectively.

Email’s power is its asynchronous nature – we both send and receive whenever we want.  I can work late and send you my answer at 1:30am – you don’t have to be awake at 1:30am to read it, you will get it as soon as you are ready.

Email is wonderful for transaction.  Arranging a date for a meeting.  Sending the invoice once an operation is completed.

Do not confuse yourself into thinking that you can achieve influence via email… and all  leadership activity requires some aspect of influence.  So…  Rule #3: EMAIL IS NOT LEADERSHIP ACTIVITY.

Does your Email Inbox hold you hostage?  Photo Credit: Kalexanderson

Let me repeat that very clearly:


“The inbox is nothing but a convenient organising system of other people’s priorities” Brendon Burchard

It is a wonderful tool for transaction, maintenance of the status quo, the to-and-fro of information within and around companies.

Now that we have that concept in mind, any leaders will have quickly realised that all time spent on email is commodity – it is non-differential.  Anybody can do it.  (In fact, most management gurus outsource the management of their email to a secretary or to a virtual assistant).  The objective is to effectively manage your email inbox in the shortest time possible.

I have never sold a jet via email

I am founder of Taxijet.  I sell private jets.  I spent 4 years busily responding to all emails on my blackberry as soon as I could.  I felt a stress if I didn’t immediately get back to a potential client.  Almost all of my work stress was related to speedily getting back to emails.  After 4 years of this style of daily activity, I had an epiphany: “I have never sold a jet via email”.

Never.  It never made a difference.

I might have had some flight reservations via email, but that was because I had established a relationship face-to-face.  This was a natural transaction, but not an email that created value.

So, as a leader, your mission is to delegate, delete and rapidly deal with transactional email.

My grandfather had no email – his work was listening to people.  I have email, and a lot of my job can easily turn into moving emails back and forwards.  It can eat my day if I let it.

Many people let this happen.  Email eats their day.  Email eats their creativity, their passion, their genius.  They think email is their work.

Email is not your work*.

Get off of the drip, drip of other people’s priorities. When you wake up each day, stay away from the computer.  Exercise, think, write, walk around the neighbourhood.

Start the day: Hydrate, Eat, Stretch & Plan.

How to Plan a Day

First, ask yourself: “What do I want to be happy for at the end of the day today?”

Once you’ve got that answer, ask yourself “What am I grateful for today?” and then “What am I committed to making happen today (no matter what)?”

Plan your day before you touch the computer.

Productivity is only productivity if it is aligned in a consistent direction.  20 miles a day is good if it all to the east.  It is total waste if it is 5 miles north, 5 miles south, 5 miles west and 5 miles east.

Leaders Write Stuff Down

If you are writing something important, post it as a blog post.  Start a wordpress or tumblr blog now.  Make it and start for free.

If you are an expert, publish in magazines or on industry blogs.  Then you can point people to your articles when they ask questions via email.

Email does not scale.  You cannot grow significantly as a leader if your main work tool is email.

If you use email as your to-do list, then it is at least structuring your day… but why would you use a poorly designed to-do list when so many powerful to-do list applications already exist (check out Redbooth from my friend Pablo)

There are others who manage to contain email, but the rest of their day is sucked up in meetings…  that is a future post in this series – taming the meeting beast.

Advantages of Email

  • You can use it 24/7
  • You control when, where and how you respond to messages
  • You have a recorded history of your messages
  • You can draft, edit, re-edit and really craft an email message until you are happy with it

Disadvantages of Email

  • You can use it 24/7
  • There is an implicit expectation that you should respond to all emails
  • The other person has a permanent recording of your words
  • Words in email can be misunderstood – as they often lack some wider context that would be obviously necessary if this was a face-to-face conversation, or a phone call.

Some starter email tactics:

  • Apply the “Three Sentences Email Policy”.  Check out –
  • Establish a set time when you read and send emails, rather than doing it throughout the day.  One manager I know reads and responds at 4pm and the rest of the office knows that if they send an email before then, it will be dealt with at 4pm… not before.  Switch off “push” email on iphone, blackberry or android smart phones.

*Except if you are a customer service staff working in an entirely email transactional driven organisation… but then you are not a leader and are probably not reading this post…  so…

Goodbye Ad-Hoc, Hello Systematic

In order to be a full Jedi time manager, the novice must learn to use proven tools such as:

  • Prioritising
  • Goal Setting
  • Deadlines
  • Delegation
  • Planning

That’s what this post series is all about.  You will become a master of the force and a power user of the tools of systematic, habitual action.

Are you a Jedi guided missile?  Are you systematic in how you set goals and make daily progress on what is important?  Or, are you more of an ad-hoc novice?

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Author: Conor Neill

Hi, I’m Conor Neill, an Entrepreneur and Teacher at IESE Business School. I speak about Moving People to Action.

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