SAN FRANCISCO — You don’t have to live in fear of your e-mail inbox or be a slave to it, says Merlin Mann, a writer and Web personality who spoke Thursday at the Real Estate Connect conference.

Mann discussed his philosophy and strategies for quickly sorting through the many messages that can divide your time and attention if you’re not careful — he promotes this plan to get to "Inbox Zero" at his Web site.

His presentation began with the disclosure of the sprawling e-mail address he obtained in 1993:

In those days not many people were using e-mail and it wasn’t hard to keep up with the flow of messages, he said.

Nowadays, he said, the flow of messages can be overwhelming. And that holds true for real estate professionals, who can be in constant communication with clients and other business contacts via phone or e-mail.

"There is a huge disparity in the number of requests that you will receive for your time and attention today and the amount of time you have to respond to that. I believe more than ever in 2008 that you’ve got to have some kind of system," he said, to manage the inbox influx.

And it’s important not to treat your e-mail as a "place to hang out," he said. "It’s not like your local bar. It’s a place to get into and out of as quickly as possible."

Mann suggests five ways to process incoming e-mail: Delete, delegate, respond, defer or do.

Don’t feel obligated to respond to lengthy messages with an equally lengthy response, he also offered.

His system is intended to eliminate that "groaning feeling of not wanting to check your e-mail because you’re so far behind," he said, by quickly whittling down the messages in your inbox.

Also, don’t feel the need to check e-mail every time you get a new message, he said. "How often do I have to really, honestly check e-mail? Nobody needs to check e-mail every minute.

"Consider ‘firewalling’ time when you go in and (check e-mail). You need to firewall this stuff or it’s going to take over," said Mann, whose mother worked as a real estate agent (see Inman News article).

Mann summed up this time management as "no fiddling," and "lose the shells" — with the latter he displayed a picture of peanuts. "Once you’ve gotten the nutmeat out you can throw the shell away," he said.

He also had some advice for real estate professionals in how they spend their time and money in marketing to consumers.

"Would you continually spend $40,000 a month on a marketing campaign if it was only bringing you $5,000 in business?" he asked. "Time and attention are the most precious things you have in life. How many of us are learning how to manage our attention?"

Read more about Merlin Mann and his views on managing time and communications in these Inman News articles:

View Merlin Mann videos at


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