Email is not your boss. It is simply a method of communicating information, just like postal mail. Before the advent of all of our modern electronic “conveniences” there was an expectation that it would take a bit of time for you to receive information. No one ran to their mailbox every five minutes or had a panic attack if someone didn’t immediately receive and respond to their note. The expectation was that communication took time, and when people were able, they would respond.
Fast forward to 2012, between email, IM, Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, and the multitude of computer and smartphone based communication options, many Americans have a serious case of information overload and Web-induced ADD.
Here is one simple strategy to conquer email overload:
Set the expectation that you will only reply to email once or twice a day.
I know this may sound crazy, but I’ve been doing it successfully for a couple of years and kept email in its proper place. Here’s how:
- If you have set the expectation that you will respond to email in 2-seconds flat, set up one of these auto responders to start to wean people off of instant access to you.
- Set aside a day to completely clear out your in boxes. (This could be shorter or longer depending on your backlog.)
- At the designated time, sit down with a list of all of your email accounts in front of you. Number them in order of attack.
- Look at the first inbox. Select and delete all of the messages that do not require a personal response (updates, newsletters, feeds, ListServes, etc.). If you can’t bear the thought of deleting something because you “will read it” move it into a properly labeled email folder.
- Select and move all of the emails related to a particular project/person/topic that you need to keep but don’t require a reply into designated folders. (I have one for each client and each business development topic.)
- Take a hard look at your inbox and make sure there is nothing more you can delete or file before starting to read email.
- Click on the first message in your inbox. Take the appropriate action (i.e. read, reply, forward, etc.), and then immediately delete or file it. It CAN NOT remain in your inbox. If you need to remember to complete a task related to that email, put a note on your to-do list or calendar and then file the email.
- Continue down the list of emails until you are entirely done with the inbox. The only time you are allowed to spend time scanning the entire inbox is if you can respond to multiple messages with a single email. (For instance I replied to five of my client’s messages sent on one day with a single email response.)
- Repeat this process with the rest of your email inboxes. The psychological relief will be sublime!
- Develop a personal system of responding to email just once or twice a day so you can stay on top of email on a regular basis without having it constantly interrupt you. For instance, I block out 1-2 hours every morning to clear out my business email inboxes. Then for the rest of the day, I am free to complete projects. I send email when necessary, but try to only scan my inbox a couple of times a day and only respond to emails that are truly urgent. Otherwise, they have to wait for my morning email purge.
According to Lauren Berger, the Intern Queen, this is the best piece of advice I ever gave her! I hope you’ll experience similarly brilliant results.
What strategies do you have for managing your email?
Elizabeth Grace Saunders is the author of The 3 Secrets to Effective Time Investment: How to Achieve More Success With Less Stress and is the founder of Real Life E Time Coaching & Training. For more time investment tips, check out www.ScheduleMakeover.com.