Be Proactive With Email With One Simple Trick

Sending Email Without Looking At Your Inbox

Email is a powerful tool, yet it’s also a growing burden for school leaders to bear.

It seems that every time we check our email, there’s more coming in, distracting us from what we want to work on.

(That’s why I recommend using a to-do app, such as ToDoist, rather than your email inbox, to manage your tasks and plans for the day.)

If you’re disciplined about it, you can avoid checking your inbox and being distracted a hundred times a day.

But what if you need to be in your email app to send a message?

A lot of your work gets done through other people, so it’s a great use of your time to get others to take action on your behalf. Email is a great delegation tool because:

  • It takes very little time
  • It’s self-documenting
  • You can use text expansion shortcuts for repeated issues, and your secretary can even send email for you
  • It’s easy to save the replies (and their attachments, if necessary)—I recommend saving important messages in Evernote
  • It’s easy to set yourself a follow-up reminder using a service like

Sending email to get work done is great, but…

It’s Easy To Get Derailed

How often has this happened to you?

You get a great idea, or remember something that needs to be done, so you open up your email to share the idea or delegate the task to someone else.

But before you can create a new message, your inbox pops into view, and you get pulled into the latest crisis. Half an hour later, you’re still responding to email, and you’ve forgotten what you were going to send an email about.

The solution? Don’t look at your inbox. Here’s how.

Three Ways to Avoid Looking At Your Inbox

I have three favorite ways to avoid this phenomenon.

  1. In Outlook (or other desktop email clients), keep your calendar as your main window, and use a keyboard shortcut (or a toolbar button if you prefer…but really, it’s worth learning the keyboard shortcut) to create a new message.

    In Outlook for Windows, it’s CTRL+SHIFT+M. On Mac, it’s CMD+N.

  2. In Gmail, create a new message without visiting your inbox first by bookmarking this URL. Better yet, put “” as a shortcut leading to this page, so you always see the Compose window before your inbox.
  3. Use Drafts for iPad or iPhone to send email, and don’t even open your email app at all when sending. As a bonus, you can use Siri’s dictation feature to write your message.

Which strategy works best for your setup? Leave a comment and let me know.

This is the kind of strategy I teach in-depth, with video tutorials, in the High-Performance Instructional Leadership Network. (The Drafts and TextExpander tutorials are some of the best work I’ve done so far this year.) If you’re interested in joining individually or as part of a group, take a look and get in touch.


When Your Workload Gets Out of Control

How to Gain Traction When Your Workload Is Out of Control

It’s happened to all of us. It’s happening to thousands of us right now.

We work hard, all the time, and still can’t keep up with everything. That’s partly the nature of school leadership.

Phone messages pile up, paperwork sits unfinished, emails loom unanswered.

How do we survive? How do we recover? And how do we keep it from happening again?

Carve Out Success

In those times when we’re overwhelmed, our self-efficacy can take a real hit, which creates a downward spiral.

Self-efficacy helps us to be productive, and being overwhelmed saps our self-efficacy.

What’s the way out of this death-spiral?

In a word, we need to compartmentalize. We need to block off one area of our work where we can take control and create success, even if it’s a small area.

If you’re not sure where to start, start with your desk. A clear desk suggests a clear mind, and it can actually help you clear your mind by removing all the stuff you’re not working on right now.

If you don’t have time to clean your desk today, dump everything in your Future File‘s “tomorrow” folder and schedule time on your calendar to go through it.

Start there, and maintain that small sanctuary of control.

But to maintain control, you’ll need a system.

Create Systems To Maintain Control

Once your desk (or inbox, or calendar, or whatever you’re focusing on) is under control, keep it that way. But don’t rely on sheer willpower; you’ll spend too much time on it, and when that time isn’t available, you’ll fail.

Instead, you need a system.

It’s often said that “Your system is perfectly designed to produce the results you’re getting,” and that tells us that if we don’t like our results, we need to change the system.

Let’s say people keep putting things on your desk and messing up your system. Do you have an inbox that you can route all incoming paperwork into? Do you have a Future File that you can use for anything that doesn’t need your attention today?

Or maybe your desk is cluttered with sticky notes. Do you have a phone message pad? An electronic to-do list?

So tools are one part of the formula. If you don’t have the right tools, you’ll use other tools as poor substitutes. When you don’t have a good task app, your entire desk becomes your to-do list.

A good system for keeping a certain aspect of your work under control has a few essential features:

  • An inbox, for holding items you haven’t looked at or made decisions about yet
  • A place to hold well-organized items that you have processed and decided on, but just need time to work on
  • A modicum of organization so you can batch—that is, do similar items together to save time
  • A place for items to go when you’re done with them (you can’t re-load the dishwasher until you put away the clean dishes, after all)
  • A time on your calendar when you’ll update and maintain the system, so it stays functional (your car needs a tank of gas every so often, and so do your systems for staying on top of your work)

Start Today

If you have a system that’s out of control, carve out success right now, and start rebuilding your sense of self-efficacy. Create a system, and keep it running, and spiral upward from there.


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