The Inbox Booty Call: Why You Need to Protect Your Inbox The Way You Protect Your…Other Stuff

I hate my inbox.

At any given moment, I have 647 unread messages from people who want something from me.

Not just email. It’s Facebook Messenger. Slack channels. SnapChat. Twitter. Text messages.

My tombstone is going to read: Here lies Margo, died of trying to respond in a timely manner to all the incoming requests in her inboxes.

I want to know when I get to reach Tina Fey status.

This GIF doesn’t make sense to the context of this post, I just think it’s funny

 

Like if you tried to reach Tiny Fey, you wouldn’t expect her to respond. Same with Jeff Bezos. Or George Bush. Or Indra Nooyi. Or Oprah.

They’re somehow exempt from the social ethos laws normal people have to follow.

If a normal person took two months to respond to your email, you’d think, “What an asshole.”

If Tina Fey took 2 months to respond to your email, you’d think, “OMG TINA FEY READ MY EMAIL AHHHH!!”

When do we reach that level?

I consulted with some people far more successful than me and it turns out the answer is less climactic than I thought:

You’re at that level when you decide you’re at that level.

Ummm…

We all know there is a magical line you cross where you are anointed “important” and “successful” and “no longer bound by the same rules as normal people.”

I want to know where that line is. 600,000 people on my email list? Segment on Oprah? Billion dollar IPO?

WHERE IS THE MAGICAL LINE YOU GUYS MY INBOX IS FULL!!!!

I asked people with some more of those impressive credentials and they all said the same thing:

It’s not a peak you reach, it’s just a decision you make one day about how much you value your time.

“So, what you’re saying is, I get to be Oprah when I decide I’m Oprah.”

“Kinda.”

I could work with that.

If I’m going to be Oprah, I need to get calendar anorexia. That’s a phrase I stole from one of my favorite essays on this topic:

“To the person who emailed me this morning with a perfectly nice request,

I’m sorry to say the answer is no.

You didn’t do anything wrong. You were perfectly respectful and within your rights to ask about arranging a time for a meeting (or was it for a phone call or about setting a date for that project we discussed, I don’t recall).

The problem isn’t you. There is something wrong with me.

I have a form of anorexia.

Don’t be alarmed. It’s not serious, though I take it quite seriously. Because it’s probably the only form that’s healthy. In fact, I think it’s the secret to my success.

I have calendar anorexia.

I want as absolutely little in my calendar as possible”

From “To Everyone Who Asks For ‘Just A Little’ Of Your Time: Here’s What It Costs To Say Yes” by Ryan Holiday.

Just the thought of saying no to an incoming request makes my heart palpitate like I’m halfway through a 26 mile a marathon and I’m going to DIE.

  • You want me to go to that event? YES.
  • You want to grab coffee for no reason? SURE
  • You want to brainstorm a project you’ll never execute? ABSOLUTELY

It’s like I’m a time whore, just giving it away to anyone who asks. You get my time and you get my time and you get my time (I’m already Oprah!! Just not the right kind of Oprah. smh.).

In order for calendar anorexia to work, I need to (hold up, let’s move this to second person so you trust me more as an authority figure, like Oprah) YOU need to stop responding like an eager beaver to every incoming message.

I’m establishing a new rule.

The Inbox Booty Call: Treat incoming requests on your time the way you would a text that says, “U up?”

Only respond to the ones that come from good looking people.

Just kidding.

Treat your inbox(es) the way you’d treat your dating life. You don’t go on dates with anyone who asks – and you don’t flirt with someone you can’t stand.

Instead, you smile politely and move on with your day.

We need the “smile politely” inbox equivalent. Short. Sweet. Move on.

To avoid the inbox booty call you must set boundaries in the following ways:

  • Discipline friends who ambush introduce you to people
  • Politely say no to things you don’t HAVE to do
  • Recognize you don’t HAVE to do 90% of things you think you HAVE to do
  • Ignore anyone who asks to “pick your brain”
  • Ask “Why?” when someone says they’d like to “chat,” “talk,” or “connect”

Derek Sivers is famous for his “HELL YES or no!” filter when it comes to what projects deserve your attention. And while I love all things Sivers (I really do), I don’t think it’s the best starting mantra for anyone who is new to boundaries.

If my decision rubric relied on the feeling of “HELL YES!” I’d sit at home all day and watch TED talks with an expensive bougie (pronounced booo-jee) bottle of wine. The two only things I always feel HELL YES about.

(And my husband. You too. That was not an after thought. I love you as much as I love TED talks. Swear.)

In order to successfully refuse the Inbox Booty Call, we need a rubric for who’s allowed to take up your time.

Some people call these “priorities,” but I’m terrible at those so we’ll call this “Booty Allowances.” Here are your Inbox Booty Allowances:

  • Your team
  • Your family
  • Your absolute best best best friends in life (pick 3)

Not allowed:

  • HARO contacts
  • People you met at a conference
  • Interview requests
  • People who stand you up or reschedule a lot
  • Anyone who hands you a business card
  • People you met at a meetup
  • Twitter or Instagram friends
  • People who don’t have your actual phone number
  • People who are snarky via email, even though you’re doing them a favor

Those people do not get texted back at 3AM (even if you’ve been drinking).

The downside of building a business in a connection economy is that the line between “business” and “personal” is getting blurrier and blurrier. Everyone and their mom thinks they’re your friend. While you might genuinely like everyone and want to be their friend, you can’t (physically. like you can’t).

The harder part is feeling like you’re going to “lose opportunities” and “lose business” by becoming less available. If you run an agency or consultancy, you might be right. “Missing out on opportunities” is a real consequence. There’s also the flip side, “gaining mental health.”

We all know the guy who always answers his phone and goes to every lunch meeting – he never does any real work. He’s a professional meeting attender. That is fine if you’re a manager, not if you’re a maker. But you’re a maker.

Makers: creators. People who make things. I know you’re a maker because you’re reading this. (Managers don’t really read my stuff…)

Only makers have that weird awesome painfully beautiful desire to create.

For no reason other than you feel it in your bones. It’s not rational, it’s just there. You were born with it.

Makers include programmers, writers, designers, growth hackers, and any other discipline that requires long stretches of uninterrupted time in order to get anything done.

You need calendar anorexia if you’re a maker. Otherwise, you’re destined to a manager’s life of “moving the ball down the field” and not actually CREATING. And it’s going to eat your soul.

Responding to your Inbox Booty Calls is just like responding to real booty calls – it’s getting in the way of your real relationships (in this case, your relationship with your work – the thing you are creating).

The demands on your time are only going to get worse as you get more successful.

Knowing who’s on your short list of “Booty Allowances” and who’s not is the difference between becoming Oprah and staying the people pleaser who couldn’t get her business off the ground.

I’m still going to search for the magical line where they tell you you matter, but until I find it, I will be over there.

Not checking my phone and doing actual work.

Margo Oprah

 

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