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Is Your InBox Driving You Crazy?

How I deal with Email Overwhelm

To be honest? I’m feeling frayed.

Each morning, after my daily ritual of meditation, exercise and journaling I check my e-mails. And without fail there are anywhere from 150 to 500 emails sitting in my inbox.

“Where am I?” I wonder to myself each morning. Just how do I handle this overwhelm from day to day and lose sight of my own projects and focus on my future?

How did I find myself so caught up in this world of technology?

I’ve begun to fear I’ll reach old age - that I’ll absent-mindedly drift into this abyss and lose sight of the shore, constantly living on other people’s agendas of what they want from me.

I feel like I can’t breathe some days. Who am I?

Does anyone else constantly feel stressed by an always-overflowing inbox?

I can deal with my bedroom looking like a bomb went off, with clothes strewn all over, for a little while. I can deal with papers cluttering my desk and dishes in the sink for a few hours. But if my digital life is not in complete and perfect order, I can’t think straight.

Which means I spend a lot of time trying to keep my inbox clean. Respond and delete. Label and file away. Respond and delete. Label and file away. My goal is always to be able to see all the messages in my inbox without scrolling down or clicking over to another page. It feels like a never-ending battle.

To keep my sanity around my inbox here are a few strategies I employ:

1. Checking e-mails: Checking my emails regularly during the day seems to be an effective way to keep my inbox at manageable levels. However, the constant interruption and distraction that comes from multitasking in this way dramatically lowers my productivity, and disrupts my ability to enter a state of flow when working on high value projects. I used to be a slave to email notifications, answering my email every time I saw that little popup, heard that little ding, or watched that icon badge climb up another point. Until I realized it was killing my productivity. Now I let the emails come in, and then check periodically throughout my day instead of every time a new one comes in. One strategy I use is to check email only at set points during the day. For instance, I’ll only check my inbox first thing in the morning, before lunch, and at the end of the day.

2. Organizing Emails: Can you imagine having an inbox with nothing in it? It almost sounds too good to be true. Although a completely empty inbox is unrealistic, keeping my main inbox cleared makes me more organized, and helps eliminate stress.

I set up a simple filing system to help manage my mail. I highlight, flag, or star messages that need a response. For instance green flag means “chill, can wait”; red flag means “urgent, must respond”; Purple flag means “file away/for reference”; blue flag means “archive”. Staying on top of my folders – particularly “urgent” folders – allows me to use them as an informal To-Do List for the day. When I create specific folders for processing email it makes it easier to search for past mail: instead of scouring my entire email system, I can simply search in that particular folder.

3. Re-route Non-Essential Emails: I regularly receive mail such as newsletters, blogs and article feeds, which I re-route to another email address, so that they’re instantly delivered to a particular folder. This helps keep my primary inbox clear, and they’re in one place, ready to read at a convenient time.

4. Make clear your expectations: One of the things I do, to limit the amount of email I need to process, is to encourage people to send me less. For instance, some of my team members who have a habit of regularly sending me long, drawn-out emails I have been able to let them know, gently but firmly, that because of the demand on my time, I’d appreciate emails no longer than a paragraph or two. Anything longer than that should warrant a phone call.

4. Get Rid of Unwanted Spam and unsubscribe: Work email is not the only thing overwhelming me. The other thing taking up all that space in my inbox is spam, and while it seems impossible to get rid of, I use simple techniques to keep these at a minimum. First, I make sure to check which messages were sent directly to me and not to a mailing list, then I unsubscribe religiously. Rather than delete emails I don’t want, I take an extra few seconds to unsubscribe from those lists. Deleting is a short-term solution, but unsubscribing works in the long term.

6. Respond in a timely manner: I reserve time to read and respond to email after a long period of focused work, or at the time of day when my energy and creativity are at their lowest. Those in the know, know that if there is a real urgency they can use instant messaging to get my immediate attention.

When reading email, I try using the “Two-Minute Rule”– if the email will take less than two minutes to read and reply to, then I take care of it right away, even if it’s not a high priority. The idea behind this is that if it takes less than two minutes to action, it takes longer to read and then store the task away “to do later” than it would to just take care of the task now. For emails that will take longer than two minutes to read or respond to, I schedule time on my calendar, or add this as an action on my To-Do list, to do later.

7. Keep It Under Control When You’re On Vacation: If you think your email is overloaded, wait until you come back from a week-long vacation—it becomes an unclimbable mountain! Instead of dreading my vacation I let everyone know I’ll be gone, set up an auto-responder that tells them to email me back later, and delete everything that comes in. That way, I come back to an empty inbox, and anything important enough to wait for my return is re-sent when I get back.

Most of us feel overwhelmed by email. Although it’s a great communication tool, people often overuse it. When you manage it effectively, you can significantly boost your productivity.

But you know what? No matter what you do, it’s not enough.

Most of the emails we receive are manufactured emergencies. We’ve gotten in the habit of thinking that we have to take care of everything right away, which means putting off the important things we really want to get done.

It doesn’t matter what you do, modern jobs seem to require that everyone barrage you with email at all hours of the day. If you’re feeling overwhelmed and feel like you’ll never get back to a clean inbox, you’re absolutely right.

You won’t.

I feel for you.

© Rani St. Pucchi, 2017

Rani St. Pucchi is an award-winning Couture Fashion Designer, a Style & Image Consultant, and a Relationship Expert. She is a Bestselling Author, a Speaker, an Inspirational Coach and a Trainer. Her highly acclaimed recent TEDx talk: Is Your Body Image Holding You Back is definitely worth watching. Rani’s #1 International Bestselling Books, Your Body, Your Style: Simple Tips on Dressing to Flatter Your Body Type and The SoulMate Checklist : Keys to Finding Your Perfect Partner are now available on Amazon and at Barnes & Nobles.

For more information on Rani please visit www.ranistpucchi.com

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