Email Liberation – How to Free Yourself

Do you get lots of emails?

So do I. So does everyone.

Some years ago, I devoured the loads of information out there on how to handle email effectively. I’m a big fan of the ‘Inbox Zero’ approach and I like Tim Ferris’s article on ’Ten Steps to Become an Email Ninja’.


What I want to share with you today is NOT a technical hack.

What I want to share with you is a different way of thinking about email that will liberate you from email.

Up until last year, although I had integrated all kinds of hacks to get my email under control, there were still a lot of emails from people – important emails – that were waiting to be replied to and hanging over my head.

One day while walking down the street in London, I had an insight that instantly reduced this by about 90%.

What I realised is that of all the emails that are waiting for replies, only a very small percentage of them (less than 10%) were from people who I had an explicit AGREEMENT with to which I would respond to their emails.

In my case, this included pretty much just my clients and my small team of two people.

The rest of the emails that were waiting for replies were from people who DESIRED or EXPECTED a response.

I realized that even my mother and my wife don’t have agreements with me that I’ll respond to their email!

I choose not live my life at the mercy of other people’s expectations or desires.

I also choose to live in integrity with the agreements I make with people.

As an experiment, I thus created two folders:

1. Agreements

2. Expectations / Desires
I then moved ALL outstanding emails into one of these two folders.
The change in my EXPERIENCE of email was immediate.
Suddenly, I was able to first reply to ALL of the emails in folder 1 in very little time (because there were a lot less of them). After doing this, I felt COMPLETE. I had fulfilled all of my agreements.
What remained was folder 2, which was full of emails from people who expected or desired a response from me. Many of these emails I WANTED to respond to, but that was not something that needed to hang over me. I could simply do what I wanted to do whenever I felt like doing it.
Very often I will open up folder 2, not because I have to, but because I want to. When I do, I don’t ask myself ‘who must I reply to’, because that would only apply if the email was in folder 1. Instead, I scan through and I choose to reply to the emails that I WANT to reply to. And I stop doing that when I don’t want to do it anymore.
As long as folder 1 emails have been responded to, then I am living in integrity with my agreements and I am NOT living my life at the mercy of other people’s expectations or desires.
This is true email liberation.