Change your email habits

Two habits have completely altered my effectiveness with email communication.

  1. Inbox zero
  2. Batch emailing

For years, the desire to respond as quickly as possible consumed me. Don’t get me wrong, responsiveness is a fine quality. Incessantly checking email every 7 minutes is not. It’s one of the reasons I committed to no email on the weekends.

Below are the 2 tactics I took to change my email habits.

Inbox Zero

No emails should be in your main inbox.

Step 1

Move all emails to archive.

Yes. All of them.

There’s no need for other folders. The sophisticated search functionality of email clients like Outlook and Gmail are robust. If you need to find an email, “google it” in your archive folder.

Step 2

Congrats, you’re at inbox zero!

Step 3

New emails come in. You’re no longer at inbox zero. Don’t fret!

Now is the time to make 1 of 3 decisions:

  1. Archive it. You’ve read it, you don’t need to respond to it, maybe you’ll need it later.
  2. Respond to it. You’ve read it, you need to respond to it. Can you do it in 90 seconds? Great. Send a response. Archive it.
  3. Flag it. You need to respond to it, but can’t do it in 90 seconds. You have 2 options: Schedule a meeting to complete the task or use the flagging function to flag it for later. Archive it.

Step 4

Make these decisions until there are zero emails in your inbox.

Batch Emailing

Now that you’re at inbox zero – it’s time to take control of when you email.

Think of it this way: You decide when your email pulls your attention. Your email doesn’t decide for you.

In order to do batch email, you must create your rules and your batch windows.

My rules:

  1. No email before 9AM
  2. No email after 6PM
  3. No email on the weekends
  4. No email on vacation

My batch windows (schedule dependent):

  • Morning (9am-10am)
  • Lunch (12pm-1pm)
  • Mid Afternoon (3pm-4pm)
  • Late Afternoon (5pm-6pm)

My batch window today was:

  • 9:41am-9:56am
  • 11:58am-12:07pm
  • 3:09pm-3:20pm
  • 5:31pm-5:38pm

Each batch takes ~10 minutes to go through the decisions above: Archive, Reply, Flag.

The 2 other things I will do during this time:

  1. Unsubscribe. Take 15 seconds and unsubscribe to emails you don’t need. Or use a tool like Unroll.me
  2. Check Flags. Filter your email by “flagged” to check on items you’re waiting on from others or things you need to attend to.

You have achieved inbox zero and created your batch windows. Now what?

Commit to it by trying it for a week. It will be hard. You’re unlearning a habit that you’ve reinforced daily for years.

Some friendly tips that helped me:

  • Don’t minimize. Exit out of the email client after your batch window.
  • On your phone: Move your email apps to your 2nd screen, ideally within a folder.
  • Tell someone you’re doing this. Have them hold you accountable.

But what if an important email comes in?

If it’s that important, they will call you.

No Weekend Email

Removing ourselves from our work is hard work. I thought I was good at it. Then one day, while playing with my 2 year old son on a Saturday morning, I looked down and habitually clicked the email app on my phone. After reading a few notes, I looked up and my son had ventured to the next room.

I didn’t blame him.

In that moment, I thought, what in the world am I doing? I have my son sitting in front of me, giving me his full attention and I’m reading emails on a Saturday. I became very self-aware that weekend and caught myself checking my email while my wife was driving us around town, while we were at a cookout with friends and while I was lying in bed. That was just Saturday.

The following weekend I tested something. I turned off my work email on my phone at 8PM on Friday and turned it back on at 8AM on Monday. Admittedly, I was a bit anxious. What if I miss something? I found myself engaging old habits and clicked the mail icon expecting to see my work email (it’s amazing how well-trained we are!). 

Two things happened when I turned my email back on Monday.

  1. I saw no emails that needed to be responded to over the weekend.
  2. I returned to work with new ideas and felt mentally rested and rejuvenated.

The revitalized energy excited me!

I had been connected to work, uninterrupted for basically 6 years. I had never fully removed myself, even for a day. 

That week, I set a call with my team and shared my findings. I told them I was going to commit to this going forward.

As remote workers, we don’t step in and out of the office. I committed to them that I would “step out” of the office at 8PM every Friday and “step back in” at 8AM every Monday. I encouraged them to do the same.

I’m two years in and will never look back. Here are some of my learnings:

  1. If someone really needs you, they will get ahold of you via text or call
  2. You will have more ideas and more energy at the beginning of each work week
  3. My only exception is quarter-end, where I will remain connected
  4. If I’m on vacation – I do the same thing. Extra benefit is you empower someone on your team to be fully responsible as your back-up.
  5. If you need to do work on a weekend, this doesn’t stop you. It only makes you take a conscious effort to do it. You either need to (1) turn on your laptop or (2) turn your email back on your phone. Those seem simple, but relative to just clicking a mail icon, they require conscious and deliberate effort.

How do you start?

Tip #1: If you’re anxious about it, try just doing it this Saturday

Tip #2: If you have 2 phones, lock your work phone away. 

Tip #3: If you have 1 phone and use Apple Mail, go into the Mail settings and “toggle” off mail from your work account.

Tip #4: If you have 1 phone and cannot “toggle” the mail off, move the app as far from the main screen as possible, ideally hidden in an app grouping. 

You will feel uncomfortable. You will feel anxious. But if the entire country of France can do it – I promise you can, too!

Welcome

Whether you’re my mother who is bound by law to click on her son’s website or you stumbled on it through some other means – welcome!

I have a ton of curiosity and have done my best to build up as much knowledge and experience on leading a healthy, wealthy and fun existence.

On this site you’ll find articles and recommendations on a variety of topics including:

  • Personal Finance
  • Health
  • Parenting
  • Building Wealth
  • Career
  • Books
  • Technology
  • Habits
  • Sports

I have a biweekly newsletter with over 100 subscribers and a long list of books I’m eager to dive into.

To my guaranteed fan of at least 1 (looking at you, Mom!) and any others who’ve made it this far: Thank you for clicking.

Clay Davis

Love Openly

I vividly recall the one time I was hugged by my father. It was 9:05pm. Why do I know that? Because I was 5 minutes past curfew. I was already on uneven ground with my parents because they didn’t approve of my high school girlfriend.

It’s pouring down rain and I’m standing at our front door waiting for my parents to come to the door to let me in after being late returning from dinner with my girlfriend’s family.

I received the initial scolding of being late.

“There are rules for a reason.” Yada yada yada.

So how did this lead to a hug?

My brother nor I heard “I love you” from our parents until well after college. My family expressed love through their time and gifts. As a teenager, I didn’t have the presence of mind to appreciate quality time as an act of love. They were my parents – they were supposed to be around. <- Spoken from a truly privileged viewpoint.

All the while, I experienced my friends, my girlfriend and others in my life express love through their words and their hugs. In my teenage mind I equated it to this: Their parents say I love you, so they are loved. My parents don’t say I love you, so am I loved?

So there I am, standing on the front stoop of my childhood home. Dripping wet. Shamefully waiting to be let in the house. 5 minutes late. Wondering if I’m loved.

After some stern words from my father, I let years of pent up emotion release. In my long diatribe, I said eight words that I know brought pain to my father: “I don’t even know if you love me!”.

I stopped after I said it. Not because I was done talking, but because his expression changed from anger to hurt. He said “What do you mean? Of course we love you.”

“You never say I love you. You never hug me. How do I know?”

To my father’s credit, he grabbed his drenched son and hugged him while saying

“Of course I love you”

That was the first hug I can remember from my dad.

Expressing love openly is hard if you didn’t grow up with it.

A few years later, I met a friend, who said I love you to basically everyone. Family, friends, girlfriends – anyone whom he cared for. I thought it was crazy, borderline disingenuous. Within weeks of meeting me, he was telling me he loved me. Is he serious? What did I do to deserve love that quickly? 

I heard ‘I love you’ more from him 3 months than I did from 18 years with my parents. It actually irked me on occasion. I don’t even say this to my parents!

Deep down, I believe it irked me because I was uncomfortable with the word. I thought it was reserved for one of the few times in your life (yes, life) where you really meant it. 

  • Engagement
  • Marriage
  • Newborn child
  • Funeral of a loved one

And here he was, telling me he loved me as he hopped on his Razor scooter on his way to History Class. This guy must be nuts!

Then, I began to notice things. Each time he ended a phone conversation with a family member: I love you. Each time a friend was leaving for the weekend: I love you. Each time he felt love: I love you. 

The more I got to know him and how deeply he cared, I came to appreciate and even envy his ability to outwardly love. I still had a fixed mindset about love, but at least now I wasn’t irked. I would do my best to absorb his love, but I was still too uncomfortable to say it back. 

You’re probably thinking: He is one of your friends and you can’t say I love you back? Messed up, dude.

I know!

It all goes back to the household I grew up in. I didn’t get that first hug and ‘I love you’ until I shared my frustrations at the age of 17. 

I didn’t get my 2nd until I went off to college.

The 3rd? When I got married. 

Consistent words of affirmation and hugs didn’t happen with our family until 2018. What changed in 2018 is my dad was diagnosed with ALS.

It took a literal death sentence for our family to adapt.

Don’t wait for a death sentence to openly love who you love.

My advice:

  • Say I love you to the ones you love
  • Love openly through hugs and words of affirmation
  • Be outwardly grateful to the people you hold special in your life

Let them slam their finger in the drawer

The best way to learn is by doing. It’s why one of our principles for raising children is to “let them slam their finger in the drawer”. Literally.

When our oldest was 13 months old and pulling a drawer out and closing it shut – we could have stopped him.

Instead, we watched patiently.

Waiting for the inevitable.

As it so often does, inevitable showed up: in the form of a smashed finger and 20 seconds of hysterics.

You know what happened 90 seconds later? He ventured over to that same drawer, opened it, began to close it and simultaneously lifted his tiny fingers out of the way. He wasn’t going to make that mistake again.

It is quite literally short-term pain for long-term gain.

It is also about creativity

Kids hear no 40 times more often than they hear yes. There is no better way to stifle creativity than to discourage trying.

Of course, don’t let them dart across a 4-lane highway. But find the times to let them slam their finger.

Let them try. Encourage curiosity and creativity!

Principles

It’s one thing to have principles. It’s another to write them down.

Here are our principles:

Parenting

  1. Love them openly
  2. Let them slam their finger in the drawer
  3. Lead by example

Finance

  1. Live below your means
  2. Know the value of your time
  3. Take risks

Health

  1. Everything in moderation
  2. Earn your junk food
  3. Take the stairs

Relationships

  1. Be present when together
  2. If you think of them, tell them

Sports

  1. Try
  2. Learn from losing
  3. Do the little things

Life

  1. Guard your calendar
  2. Smile
  3. Say yes more than no

What are your principles?