Email used to rule my life. When somebody sent me an email, they would entice me to read it, and then (most likely) get derailed from whatever I was doing. It was awful. If somebody malicious wanted to take over my life, all they would have to do would send me well-timed emails throughout the day, and I would never get anything done.
In order for productivity to work, the way I interfaced with email had to change. Nobody teaches you how to use an email before you get one, and so a majority of people misuse their email. I started reading some articles around the web, trying things, and here are these are 3 easy steps that I settled on that keep email from controlling my life.
I Don’t Check It All the Time
Once upon a time, I prided myself in the frequency at which I checked my inbox. I had it all down too. My browser would be default open up my gmail, my hotmail, and my university email account, and I had different people and mailing lists emailing according to their category and importance. I would respond to any and all emails within an hour or two.
What a waste of time!
When I check my email nonstop, whether it is on my phone, my tablet, or my computer, I spend so much of my time shifting gears between taking care of the here and now, and other people trying to get a hold of me. I struggled to stay focused on tasks (especially the important ones which required focus), because of a nagging feeling in the back of my head that I had something to check.
The fix: disable notifications and close the mail client. Check email maximum 4 times per day
The world won’t die if you don’t check your email every hour. Yes, you might be able to coordinate something in a day if you do send 20 small emails back and forward, but you can do the same thing with one email, and then a follow up phone conversation. Besides, many things do not need to be coordinated in a day, and if you’re good at planning you should be working out important details weeks in advance.
By checking in the morning, in the evening, and once or twice during the day (mealtimes) you can set aside whole hours of time in the middle where you’re working distraction free.
I Achieve Inbox Zero
Too many people use their email inbox like a todo list. The inbox is a striped column that extends thousands of messages down back to the previous decade. Urgent messages are mixed with blog subscriptions or general information emails CCed to dozens of people.
Offices that look like this look sloppy, but we don’t recognize the sloppiness on a computer because it’s digital, and therefore feels different. But it still is just as difficult for the human brain to process.
All of my emails forward to one account. And whenever I check it, I make sure that my inbox is empty when I’m done. I first quickly assign all my emails into folders: read-later, do-later, respond-to-now, or the archive. (The do-later is actually me forwarding them into my Todoist inbox.
Once my inbox is empty, then I know that everything is in it’s proper place, and that nothing is slipping through the cracks. Urgent things are getting done first, and other things are put in a list where they can be prioritized later.
I Keep Emails Short and Informative
Nobody likes rants (unless they’re giving them, but usually they’re frustrated at something and not enjoying their life too much anyway). So I don’t include rants in emails. I say what I need to say, and then finish.
When there are multiple things that I need to talk about, I send multiple emails. In the past, if I needed to tell someone a bunch of things that were sort of related, I would write a giant email with the subject line “stuff” and then put paragraphs of information in the text. I would get a reply that would say, “this is a lot of information, come to my office sometime later on to sort through all of it.” It didn’t work too well.
Now, when there are multiple topics I need to talk about, I put them in multiple messages. Each is short, too the point, and I know that the responses I get back will be more intentionally related to each topic, and usually I don’t need to show up at someone’s office to sort everything out (even though I still do this frequently when there is more to talk about than a paragraph or two over email).
I have found that I can keep my emails shorter by including more in the subject and less in the body. Many emails are so small that I can put the entire email in one subject and finish it with an EOM. This bothers people the first couple times they get it, but after getting acclimated to the shift, it becomes a time saver on both ends.
I don’t claim to be an email guru, but I know that I tend to handle more emails than the average person (maybe not the top 10%, but top 50%) and that there are bad ways and good ways to handle email. These are the methods that I have used for the last year and have saved me hours of time, and I hope they work for you as well.