Henry David Thoreau once said of all the letters he’d received in a lifetime, only TWO were really worth the postage.
I think this suggests a valuable question to ask ourselves when …
– We read email (whether from friends and colleagues, or subscription lists)
– We WRITE emails
– We compose our AdWords copy and Landing Pages
– We READ other people’s AdWords copy and Landing Pages
– We communicate in any meaningful form intended to persuade, connect, or even to repel
“Was it really worth the postage?”
Recently Jeff (my partner at Rocket Clicks) proposed an email experiment to increase our productivity and our sanity. He suggested we all check and respond to email only 3x/day. The Directors rejected this emphatically in fear everything would come crashing down, clients would fire us, etc.
But during a recent trip when my laptop broke, I had gotten more done with NO escalation in emergencies or fires to put out. So I agreed to try this crazy thing with Jeff.
It was much harder than I thought. I didn’t realize how compulsive I had become. It was as if a force outside me (an “Email Devil”) had taken over. But after every session the question lingered… “was that really worth the postage?”
The disturbing answer was less than 10% of the emails I read, responded to, or initiated honestly and truly were. Which meant not only 90% of my email time was wasted, but I was allowing 90% more interruption than necessary. (It takes at least as much time to restore concentration AFTER reading a wasted email as it does to read the email itself)
Yet the damn Email Devil had me by the throat. It’s one thing to joke about it (we all do), but the costs are very real.I asked myself, given my “conquer with focus and determination” values, how could I let the Email Devil beat me and maintain integrity? WHY would I let the devil get the best of me?
I found the answer repulsive. (As answers so often are when we find we’re our own worst enemies). Yet because it was so ugly, I know exposing it is the only cure.
There are 3 reasons this marketer, who prides himself in self-direction and discipline, who strains and struggles over every PUBLIC communication, would allow himself to waste 90% of his PRIVATE email time with things not worth the postage.
1. Email brings desired, but harmful relief from the painful tasks which produce real value (and real income).
It’s the difficult tasks which bring the most results. There’s a lot of hype about direct marketing being easy, but the truth is the whole premise of the industry is organizing and imparting value on information which is otherwise difficult to extract value from. Otherwise, what are you really offering?
My job is turning complex information into something palatable and valuable for people. (So is yours, especially if you think your industry doesn’t work like that). Which means to make money, I’ve got to dive into the deep end of the pool.
I’ve got to concentrate, organize, struggle with all the feelings and frustrations my market is experiencing, and give them solutions they can’t find elsewhere. (So do you.) It’s only natural to prefer email. In fact, sometimes I’d prefer to pour hot coffee on my privates to sticking with the marketing task at hand… but at least to date, I can’t find anyone to pay me to do that.
2. Email makes me feel important.
I know it may seem odd given my credentials, etc., but sometimes I really hunger to feel important, be recognized, and remember that I’m loved. On second thought, this isn’t so ugly, it’s only human. So connecting with friends and colleagues, and even reading emails from marketers who really DO empathize with my problems and try to provide value to solve them
The thing is, I get a lot more done when I can just recognize the need and set aside some focused time for it later. (While these are human needs and I treasure them, it’s important for me to avoid becoming a slave to them… in fact, when I control my interruptions I have MORE time to proactively meet these needs)
3. Email lets me discharge my frustrations.
I’ve got lots of people working for me who’ll listen, and a lot of friends I can bitch to. I have to admit, that’s much more fun than working. But wouldn’t it be better to consciously and purposefully schedule time to do this, rather than letting the Email Devil be my master?
And truthfully, in fairness to my employees and my friends… if I really value them, aren’t they worth a more considered and loving communication?
I could go on, and I don’t mean to suggest that I’m perfect with email now. It’s definitely a war, but I’ve won several major battles, and the tide has turned. The real question I have to ask myself before I press send and receive is “is this really the highest and best use of my time?” (Thanks to Bryan Todd for this question by the way)
For what it’s worth,
Compulsively addicted to email beyond all hope and reason. (NOT!)
PS – If managing your inbox is something you struggle with and would like to hear more from me about, I HAVE learned a lot eliminating spam in the last few years. If that’s of interest and I get enough comments/requests for it on this post, I’ll make a video about it this summer.