At over 20 hours a week (!) I think we can agree that email is a time suck and we’d rather spend the time watching Game of Thrones.*
In talking with many of you, I’ve learned that we all approach email differently. 30,000+ emails gives one woman (me!) a heart-attack and makes another woman feel secure. And so while managing email overload is personal to each one of us, there are a few ways to go about managing some of the most common problems.
Email Distraction ::
Having your email open all day long is distracting. I don’t care who you are — you do not have the willpower not to check when you hear the ding. The problem is once we get distracted it can take 25 minutes to get focused again.
- Schedule time to check your email twice a day — once earlier in the day and once later in the day, OR
- Schedule time to scan your email at the top of each hour, OR
- Schedule time between meetings to check in on your email.
Some people feel good about checking once or twice a day. Others (like me) feel the need to check more regularly and for some, their job function may require them to be on top of their email all day long. Each approach will work, however your goal should be to use time blocksto work without distraction.
Email Overload ::
Here’s where we just can’t get out from underneath our emails. It seems like one gets deleted and then five more appear.
- Ruthlessly delete. If you’ve had a ton of emails in your inbox for a while and just feel totally overwhelmed… just delete. Don’t spend time trying to read through and figure out what’s important. I know this seems like a radical approach, but if it’s that important the person will reach out to you again.
- Set up filters. In email clients like Gmail and Outlook you can set up filters so that emails are automatically sorted by category as they come in. Filters will do the work of prioritizing for you.
- Turn off notifications. You just don’t need to be pinged all day long.
- Unsubscribe. Use a tool like unroll.me and do a batch delete of your subscriptions or roll-up emails into one email that you receive either daily or weekly.
Email as a To-Do List ::
I used to use my email as my to-do list. Bad idea. First of all, it’s a great way to make everyone else’s to-dos your priority. The other thing is it doesn’t really help you prioritize the right work.
- If an email will take more than 2 minutes to process (meaning responding to it or completing an action), schedule it on your calendar or put it on your to-do list.
- Scan your emails and for the ones that will take 2 minutes or less then either do, delegate or delete.
- Use flags to distinguish what’s important and what’s not.
- Learn to distinguish what emails are important and urgent to someone else and then respond appropriately. (Appropriately — not rudely!)
Email as the Official Office Communicator ::
You haven’t seen your co-worker in the cube or office next to you for a month because you just email one another. I get it, some people you’d rather communicate with via carrier pigeon — but this can create a bunch of problems including a million emails back and forth and misunderstandings that create future headaches.
- Have a quota of emails YOU send each day. As Gandhi said, be the change you want to see.
- Schedule a meeting to say it OR have set meetings once a day or a few times a week to discuss these topics.
- Walk around the office and talk to people. This is different than wasting time gossiping. It’s productively creating positive relationships with your co-workers and gets your blood circulating.
- Agree on when you’ll send emails, maybe your team has a no email between 2PM-5PM.
- Discuss how you can create an email manifesto for your department or company.
And while we’re talking about the office, consider:
- Writing smarter emails. Make sure you:
- Use only obvious humor
- Wait to reply
- Keep them short
- Use pre-written email templates for messages, Google Canned Response makes this a cinch, for emails you send over and over.
- Use a booking link to schedule meetings. I use Acuity. If your office uses Gmail it can be as simple as giving each other access to your calendars so you can see when people are free.
Email as an Archive:
You may have a terrific reason for holding on to emails. Just don’t leave them in your inbox because it will add to the clutter and overwhelm.
- Use folders. Gina Trapani from Lifehacker uses a three-folder system:
- Forward your email into your Evernote account. It’s no secret that I’m a big fan of Evernote. I think it’s a terrific tool to store information so that you can find it easily later.
Still have questions about email? Email me and I’d be happy to help!
Oh! And one other quick thing. This week I dropped by the Ladders and talked about The One Thing You Didn’t Know About Your To-Do List. Be sure to check it out!
*I never watch TV
Mimi Bishop is a productivity + time-management consultant. Go to www.mimibishop.com for ways to take back your time.