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The Most Important Lesson You’ll Learn This Year

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Wohoo! The email challenge is over.

Whether you participated or not, there’s an important lesson I want to share with you and it has nothing to do with email.

In fact, I bet you it’s the most important lesson you’ll learn this year. Something so powerful, it has made some of our private clients cry when they’ve discovered it.

Let me set the context here.

It all started with the email challenge. One week ago thousands of people followed along. A lot of people did it in private, others joined us in the blog comments and shared with others their journey.

Our goal for you was to cut your email time in half. Most of us are to some degree addicted to our inboxes and spend way too much time on email. It still baffles my mind that the average worker spends 6 hours a day on email.

You get paid and rewarded for things you do outside of email. Nobody got richer spending mindless hours in their inbox. Even though email might be an important medium in your life, the value and contribution you make happen outside of your inboxes.

That’s why it’s so important to be in control of your email inbox. In today’s world, email is one of the biggest levers to create hours of free time and be in control of your life.

When you aren’t in control of your inbox:

  • Others will dictate your day and steal your time
  • You will waste hours of time checking and replying to email
  • You will have anxiety around a badge with numbers on it (sounds silly, doesn’t it?)

We hope with this free challenge that you’ve taken the first step to reclaiming your time and life. Instead of being reactive to email, you’re now proactive and you decide how you want your schedule to look like.

You would think this in itself is the powerful lesson…but it’s not. There’s something more powerful.

At AE, we want to help people live up to their full potential and do it in the fastest way possible.

With the email challenge, we helped thousands of people to be on their way to live up to their potential. On the last day we’ve gotten a lot of success stories and I’d like to share a couple with you:

We love reading these success stories, but there’s a bigger lesson behind of all of this.

The Most Powerful Lesson You Might Have Missed

We’ve given you tactics for freeing up hours of your time. What do you do now?

To keep your inboxes organized, we can give you more tactics but we want to give you something much more powerful.

And that’s for you to discover the underlying motivation for you to keep your inboxes organized.

This goes beyond “I don’t want to miss something important” or “I might get looked down upon if I’m not responsive.”

We want to get to the root of this. The WHY. Why is organizing your inbox so important? Why is being on top of email so important?

The superficial answer is to give you more free time. We’ve even blatantly told you.

But that was the carrot and stick. We wanted to make you believe that extra free time was the thing you wanted.

There’s actually something much more powerful – what you would do with your free time?

It’s what the extra 2-3 hours of free time represent that is important to you.

I do this same exercise with clients but I start off with money (it’s easier to understand). I tell them, “Imagine that I would give you a $100,000 right now. What would you do with that money?”

The typical, superficial, answers I’ve heard most often are:

  • Pay off debt (student loans, mortgage, credit cards)
  • Go on a vacation with the family
  • Help family members
  • Have enough money for retirement

Don’t get me wrong, these “superficial” answers aren’t bad. Paying off debt is always a good thing, just like the desire to go on a vacation is a good thing.

When I say “superficial”, what I really mean is that these answers don’t move you emotionally. When you’re procrastinating or feel unmotivated, telling yourself to work on the weekends to make more money so you can “pay off your debt” doesn’t really inspire you…does it? Nobody wants to work harder to pay off debt.

People do want to work harder for being debt free…and more specifically what it represents. For most people, being debt-free represents freedom. The freedom to decide what you want to do with your money. To have choice where there once wasn’t. To be able to sleep at night knowing you don’t owe anybody, anything.

That’s what “paying off debt” represents.

Most of us don’t know what the real value is of money. We know the superficial value but once you discover what the real value is (what it represents), you unlock a new part of you that feels more sustained inspiration and happiness.

The same idea applies to time. Most of us want more free time. But what does it represent?

Just imagine what you want to do with an extra 2-3 hours of free time.

We both agree that email is a huge time suck and it’s a huge lever to create free time. What does that free time mean to you?

Ask yourself “why?”. Why is an organized email inbox important to you? What does this allow you to do? What would be the benefit of it? And what’s the benefit of that benefit?

Most of us dream of having more free time. Let’s make this dream a reality and understand what it represents.

We asked the same questions to our clients when they were dealing with overstuffed inboxes. This is the moment when some of them cried when they realized the real reason they wanted to have extra time. Here are examples of what past clients have told us:

  • “I want to be able to bring my kids to school and take them to soccer practice. With an extra 3-4 hours a week this would make me very happy because I was never able to see my parents after school. This will not happen to my kids.”
  • “My wife deserves someone who loves her and is there for her. Not a guy working all the time and checking email on the phone but someone she can look in the eye and feel loved by.”
  • “There’s always an excuse for not writing my book. I tell myself that I don’t have the time for it so if I did have an extra hour or two, I would work toward finishing my book. People would benefit from hearing my story.”
  • “In the last three years I’ve gained a lot of weight due to stress and not caring about my health. Whenever times are tough my health is my last priority. It’s time to change and focus on me. When I come home I don’t want to check more emails but focus on my health and be around for my children when they grow up.”

What’s your why? What’s your motivation?

It’s not something superficial. If you get superficial answers, ask yourself “why?” again (sometimes multiple times). Once you get an answer that moves you, that’s when you know you found the right one.

Whatever you wrote down, this is your underlying motivation to keep your inboxes organized so you can do (more of) what you wrote down. This is what an extra 2-3 hours of free time represent.

And this is what you should remind yourself every time you’re dealing with email. It’ll motivate the heck out of yourself to cut down on email and focus on what truly matters.

Let us know in the comments what you want to do with an extra 2-3 hours of time. What does it represent to you?

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Posted by Jenny K  | October 3, 2017 at 9:37AM | Reply

This is a great article. I totally agree on the importance of finding your personal reason why. This year, I’ve been on a health and fitness journey. I’ve lost about 35 lbs toward my goal of 50 (plus 50 I lost in a previous year). So I’ve already been learning about putting first things first and it is an amazing lesson. If you put self-care first, almost magically there is more time or enough time for everything else. Things just fall into place. So as I work to implement email best practices, what would I do with an extra 3 hours? Well I would still spend it in my full-time job, but instead of replying to low value emails, I would spend it doing 2 things that represent the best of what I can bring to my job. The first is doing a better job of coaching, mentoring and leading the three people that report to me. Helping them unlock their potential so that together, we do more and do better. The second is that I would spend more time writing online articles. Not only do I love writing, but the ones I write tend to perform really well so it would mean a lot to me and to my organization if I could carve out more time for creating original content instead of just managing a million small tasks.

Posted by Barb  | September 29, 2017 at 10:37PM | Reply

Getting to bed on time so I get enough sleep!

Posted by Annette Hohnberger  | September 29, 2017 at 12:06PM | Reply

This is so right on the money. I’ve been telling my clients and everyone who cares to listen, “cut your email time by half and you’ll suddenly find yourself with up to 3 hours of free time”. This is time you can spend reading, connecting/spending time with family, doing some more prospecting, making some sales calls and actually getting more work done. Thanks Thanh for sharing this post. Will be sending this to a few friends and all my clients.

Posted by KG  | September 28, 2017 at 2:58PM | Reply

More time means more freedom which is my highest value. Thanks again!!

Posted by  | September 28, 2017 at 11:12AM | Reply

That’s great that you helped thousands of people to be on their way to live up to their potential. Can’t disagree with the fact that in our time email is one of the biggest levers to create hours of free time and be in control of your life. Checking an email inbox has become an integral activity of everyone’s life.

Posted by Diane Thompson  | September 27, 2017 at 8:04AM | Reply

I have waited all my life for retirement so that I can have time to paint and play my flute. Email has made me feel that I am still tethered to work, the inescapable. Without email tying me down, I feel the freedom of retirement and the chance to spend my time doing what I want to do. I had no idea how much email had to do with my feeling of entrapment and servitude.
Thanks for pointing out that there are things that our hearts want to do with the time, not just the things we are told we should want to do as priorities. FREEDOM!!

Posted by Teejay  | September 26, 2017 at 4:16PM | Reply

With 2-3 more hours to myself, I would finally learn a musical instrument and have more time to dedicate to the organizations to which I volunteer (rather than the haphazard time I’m able to give them now).

Posted by Steve Page  | September 26, 2017 at 1:06PM | Reply

Time vs. Money…everyone can get more money, but nobody gets more time!
Last week helped me think on that above quote. Time is truly the most valuable thing we have. Thanx Thanh and team…I,m pretty sure I have an extra 2 hours a day.



Posted by Kristen Smith  | September 26, 2017 at 10:41AM | Reply

I have a husband in law school and a one-year-old baby. Last year, I let my inbox get out of control, so every second I was playing with my baby, I felt guilty for not working. (It doesn’t help that I work from home, so I never really get to leave the office.)

That’s not ok. I should never feel guilty for spending a few hours playing with my baby.

Since getting down to inbox zero—and maintaining that on a day-to-day basis—I can shut down my computer at the end of the day and truly unplug. I can enjoy time with my husband, dog, and baby. And as a further bonus, I know that my baby doesn’t just see me as someone perpetually attached to a computer or phone. That’s not the example I want to set for her.

Posted by Janeson  | September 26, 2017 at 10:36AM | Reply

I can work a couple more exercise sessions into my schedule!

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