How to not let Emails ruin your life

I have a dog named Jaws. He is constantly alert and I daresay, hyper. He goes from 0 to 10 (0 being calm and zen while 10 means crazy and frenzied) in a heart beat. A calm golden retriever he is not.

My boyfriend got him from the local dog pound (SPCA) years before we met. Apparently he was named ‘Bear’ because he does, from certain angle, looks like an Asian sunbear. But once we got him, we quickly named him Jaws because he chewed up our remote control into unrecognizable/unsalvagable bits. He is a mongrel of, to my inexpert judgement, a german shepherd and a Doberman. An aussie friend of mine said he looks like an Australian Kelpie. After checking on the internet, he does resemble that breed too.

When I look at Jaws, I can see clear intelligence behind those brown eyes. But just a rumble of a machine downstairs or a bird tweeting from the branches, and he would tear to the window to have a look. His mind is never at rest. It must be so exhausting to be a dog.

So similarly, in our working lives, we come to our work with a lot of intellect/experience and know-how. But in our various jobs, depending on the sector and turnabout time, we face a deluge of emails coming in. Typically, I receive up to 200 emails a day.

And at any one time, we are required to respond to them. Very quickly, work becomes an exhausting tennis-match of replying to emails after emails instead of focusing on the actual project at hand – what I would term, ‘hi-value work’.

We reach the end of the day, breathless and tired after reading each and every request while also painstakingly replying to each email in the right tone, with the right content and as soon as possible.

But whether any real work is done, it is debatable. Like the dog, it is hard to settle our minds and then focus our intelligence. Intelligence is like light. Scattered, it achieves nothing. But focused, and you get a light-saber (a laser-blade used in the Star-Wars).

Here are some simple tips to manage a balance between work and replying to emails:


Not all emails are the same. Separate them!

Separate emails to 3 categories:

emails that can be replied to in 2 minutes

emails that need a longer time to reply to

emails where you are ‘cc-ed’

The first category should be attended to immediately. The second category should be given a block of time later in the day where all such ‘demanding’ emails should be dealt with. It is recommended that you actually devote a period of time in the day to do so. The third, and the least urgent (since they are on a FYI basis), you can shore it up to the last.


Aim for Zero-Inbox

Perhaps I am a little obsessive compulsive. I have a desire always to clear all my inbox before I leave for the day. However, I don’t really have the time nor the patience to craft too many categories for my inbox. Hence what I do is to create 4 broad categories to make my job easier:

  • Action items (emails to take action soonest on)
  • KIV (emails that can’t be replied to – pending further information)
  • Reference Only

Some people use these email categories as a good to-do list. I say, use whatever works for you. However for me, I tend to keep a separate WIP list (in a word document) for me to keep track of my multitudinous projects.


Schedule time to check you emails

It is easy to be overwhelmed by emails – at the expense of ignoring your own work be it presentations preparing or report doing. Or even research on data analytics. I recommend that you give yourself these blocks of time for emails:

  • the first hour of work
  • one hour after lunch
  • before you go home, devote the last hour


This is one of the reasons why Singaporeans have one of the highest burnout rates in the world. Multi-tasking is not the most efficient way to work. We need to establish time to read emails as well as time to work – and not do the former to the detriment of the latter. We should always aim for excellence in a comfortable, balanced and sustainable way.


Some tips from Cenetarians

All of us seek the fountain of youth. From the ancients’ quests for the philosopher’s stone to the rather modern fixation with Twilight’s vampires and the modern nutritionists’ advice to stock up on our antioxidants. However, in this hyper-connected, solutions-focused milleu, perhaps we can moderate our quest a little by a lesser focus on the ‘how to dos’, ‘what to dos’ but more on the ‘why we do its’.

Some researchers have conducted a study on the ‘blue zones’ (defined as pockets of populations in the world where people generally live to a ripe old age, usually more than 100 years old) – chiefly to find out how they lived to that age. Amongst the many findings is the concept of ‘Ikigai’, a reason for being introduced by the Japanese living in Okinawa. Amongst them, a 100 year old plus karate expert’s Ikigai is to continue to win every karate duel. Another centenarian’s Ikigai, of a decidedly gentler bent, is to continue to look after her great-great-great-granddaughters.

Hence more than just learning to eat more antioxidants and calorie-restrictions to add the length of the years of our lives, why not just embrace this concept to find out what your purpose of life is?

From some perspectives, a life well lived is better than a life well extended. Rather than add years to your life why not add life into your years?

For some additional readings, I really recommend Deepak Chopra’s ‘Grow Younger, Live Longer’ and ‘The Purpose-Driven Life: What on Earth Am I here for?’ by Rick Warren. You can also watch more of the ‘Blue Zone’ study here: you can watch here:

Tips on living, not enduring we

How do we ensure that our lives are lived with meaning? The thought came to me when I realize that in the entire week, it is endured from Monday to Friday night – where I only begin to live from Friday night to Sunday evening. At least before the Monday blue strike sometime before 5pm on Sunday evenings.

Emerson said once that a life that is not examined is not a life worth living. But I believe even more that a life lived without enthusiasm is not a life that’s living. From Monday to Friday we trudge about in a non-living state of life that must be endured before we reach into that temporary moment called the weekend – effectively being cheated out of 71.4% (five divided by seven, multiplied by a hundred) of our working lives.

This has to change. Paulo Coelho says that it is easier to change what is hidden and what can’t be seen than to change the big things first. Commonsense that I really don’t need this Brazilian sage to reiterate but it is useful to my little venture here:

Tips on living and not wasting 71.4% of my life away

  1. For me, I believe also that we should reserve a day, every day, to look into the sky and have that moment be a sacred moment with God. That is likened to a daily bread for the soul that we pray about in Pater Noster.
  2. The monks and the nuns had something right going for them. They wake at sunrise and the first thing they do is to flip to that Book of Hours and thank god. Yes, they call it the Invitory – literally inviting God into their lives. Yes, you can do it too. Anytime. Just wake up every morning and invite God to enter your life. You can pray the holy Rosary in the morning or just flip into the online laudate app for the Book of Hours. I simply can’t express how much it helps to imbue your day with the presence of God to keep you safe through your way, every step through the day.
  3. Find meaning in work. What is a sure litmus test if you find meaning in your work: are you passionate about it? Do you feel that sinking sick-making sensation of a Monday blue coming? Then that’s your sign that you may not be finding real value in your labour. Maybe it is time to search for something better that gives meaning to your life-story. Remember, while money is important, it isn’t everything. Especially not cancer resulting from years and years of chronic stress and frustration.
  4. Contribute to the social environment around you. Go beyond just yourself and your immediate circle of family and friends. Do something for the community. Give something back to mother nature. You can do it in a group like joining a volunteer event or you can make your contributions personal like making a regular giro donation to the Francisans or a church building fund. Even a simple day of clearing garbage off the beach or Macritchie reservoir can be your weekly act of kindness. God gives back whatever you give out. So every little bit of sunshine helps.
  5. Smile. See the humour in things. Humour, like alcohol, is a social lubricant and a lot less addictive too.
  6. Set limits on work. Whether you work from eight to eight or nine to sixes and seven, life cannot be postponed to just the weekends. Even if you need to work later,  find ways and means to make technology work for you – like a laptop that enables you to answer that one or two emails at night. Sometimes we need to learn from the French who work the least in Europe but are yet amongst the most productive.
  7. Paradoxically, go beyond the limits at work too. Send up the Christmas tree at work. Bake cupcakes for everyone. Do a mean pot of laksa and share it out. Spread the love, make your presence felt and be more than the cog and gear the corporate machine has meted out for you. Try it. It’s worth it.
  8. Never miss the chance to tell your loved ones you love them. Never miss the chance to touch them. Every moment spent with loved ones is a moment lived double.
  9. Set the basics in place: eat healthy, exercise, get fresh air often and drink green tea. Sounds easy and basic but I cannot stress how important it is to sweat at least once a day. If it is a busy period and you can’t get your daily bowl of vegetables in, consider investing in multivitamin. Iherb stocks a really good supplement called ‘Special Twos’…
  10. There can be more tips to putting the years back into life that I can fit in from time to time but so far these are my basic rules for living that can apply to everyone. Hope this helps you.


God’s blessings on you and may you spend your life, not simply enduring, but also fully living every moment.