You start your day checking your inbox. You have hundreds of emails. There are requests from team members, clients, media members, emails you somehow forgot about yesterday and emails you’re slightly afraid to open just yet.
And so it begins. You have the best of intentions, reassuring yourself that you’ll only be in your inbox for an hour or maybe just until you get through the urgent tasks. But then the emails just keep coming. Emails with questions, requests for insight, tasks, ideas and links to articles that sound like must-reads.
Fast-forward to 4:30 pm and you’re wondering where your day went. You know (or at least you think) you accomplished a lot but you can’t seem to recall what exactly those accomplishments were. You still have hundreds of emails. You look at the task list you set out to accomplish for the day and find that you didn’t even get to half of it.
What did you do all day?
Does this sound all too familiar?
If it does: You’re not alone.
I have wrestled with my inbox for as long as I can remember having access to email. From my dialup and AOL days to the fast and furious Gmail extension era, email has remained the untamable beast. I’ve read tons of articles on how to conquer your inbox but the success stories always seemed like distant fairytales.
I get it.
And today, I’m here to tell you — as a recovering email abuser — there is hope.
I’ve seen the light and I’m currently experiencing the soul-lifting freedom of a conquered email inbox.
How to keep email from ruining your life.
Today, I want to share some steps with you that I’m currently using to keep free from the mental clutter and major time-suck that email can be. Take what you will and test it for yourself. Let me know if you notice a difference …
1. Shut off all your email alerts.
Shut them off on your phone, iPad, laptop and desktop. No exceptions. Shut them all off. These alerts pull your attention from the task at hand and are rude, unnecessary interruptions.
2. Only check your email two times per day.
This nearly gave me a panic attack. I chose to set an away message (see below) alert for the first couple days that I moved to this routine to help provide a means of contact in case of emergency.
– How many emergencies happened? Zero.
– Calls received? Two (and they were not urgent)
– How many people did I piss off? Zero.
– Words of affirmation and ‘Atta Girl’s received? Five.
Here’s the away message I adapted from the 4-Hour Workweek:
Subject line: I will be in touch soon …
In an effort to increase productivity and efficiency for our current and future clients, I am beginning a new email policy. I’ve recently realized I spend more time shuffling through my inbox and less time focused on the task at hand. It has become an unnecessary distraction that ultimately creates longer lead times and less time for strategic thinking.Going forward I will only be checking/responding to email at 12 pm ET and 4 pm ET on weekdays. If you should need something urgently before the above times, you can reach me via my direct line: (614) 304-1463 or by emailing my fabulous assistant, Taylor Redick: Taylor@thinkbelle.com.My hope is that this new approach to email management will result in shorter lead times with more focused & creative work on my part, to serve you all the better.
Wishing you success today and speak with you soon …
3. Only look at a given email ONCE.
Do not leave emails in your inbox. Do not look at an email more than once. See below for more guidance on this and the email process I currently use.
4. Once you are in your inbox, give yourself a time limit of 30 minutes or use a tool like the Email Game to preview emails and quickly archive, delete, forward and archive, etc.
5. When reviewing emails, ask yourself: What do I need to do with this?
- Reply and archive as an FYI if needed later.
- Reply and delete.
- Delegate and archive or delete the email.
- If there is a task that needs completed, in which case add to Producteev or your task list WITH a deadline (if you are unsure, ask when something is due or communicate when you will achieve to manage client expectations) — then ARCHIVE.
One Last Word on Email Management.
Throughout experimenting with and adapting the above process, I’ve found that, by far, the biggest obstacle to effective email management is: Me. The truth is clients and team members do not expect me to be on call and available 24/7 via email.
That was a false assumption on my part that was self-imposed.
IF someone truly needs me ASAP, I’m available all over the internet and I even have a phone number in my signature line.
It’s just not necessary to be in your inbox all day. It’s simply a matter of self-control and discipline and although it’s hard at first, true email management IS possible and the resulting freedom and clarity make the transition absolutely worth it.
Let me know how these steps help you …
Image credit: PRDaily and Sleepless Media.