Email is part of our world and an awesome communication tool. So much of business is still done via email, and many of us get a lot of education (newsletters, subscriptions, etc) from our inbox. But the convenience, speed, and necessity of email has come at a price – we have given electronic communication permission to interrupt us all of the time! This is not good for us. We have given any person with our email address (or on our Facebook, Twitter, SnapChat, etc) to tap us on the shoulder and interrupt our day. Over the last year I've taken control of my email, rather than it letting it control me.
Here are some steps you can take to calm the email madness:
- Quiet your mobile device. If you want to be hardcore, you can disconnect your email entirely from your mobile device, but that isn't realistic for most. But, you can tell your phone to stop notifying you every time you get an email, Facebook message, twitter mention, etc. Turn off the updates! Another thing you can do on your mobile device is choose the option to fetch email rather than have it automatically pushed to your phone. That way, it will only retrieve your email when you open your email app.
- Quiet your computer. Notifications aren't just on mobile devices anymore, they are on our desktops as well. Adjust your settings so that you don't automatically get notified every time an email comes in.
- Utilize mail filters. Anyone who works or is a student at a university probably gets a lot of university email like I do. It is a veritable avalanche! While you shouldn't necessarily delete these, they don't need to be in your inbox. I create a filter to move these mass-type of emails to a separate folder, which I quickly review and delete every week or so.
- Unsubscribe! I have friends who have the best of intentions with keeping up with lots of different organizations, newsletters, etc. But you can't do and read everything. If you are getting emails that you have subscribed to, but over the last few months you haven't actually read them, hit the unsubscribe button! If you are thinking you'd still like to somehow maintain contact with this organization, see if they have a Twitter feed you can follow instead.
- Check your email only twice a day. This requires discipline, but you can do it! Unless your job requires constant email checking, you don't need to check your email every minute. If you don't have the discipline, you can utilize software like anti-social which I've blogged about before. When you're not checking your email, close the app and keep it out of sight. Batch-tasking email in this way makes processing your inbox go faster, and allows you to concentrate on the task at hand.
- Don't use your email inbox as a To Do list. If an email results in a task, move it to a task list (there are tons of great todo apps, or you can just use paper). Don't let an email sit in your inbox to remind you to do something. This is frankly, the one thing I struggle with most. The times when I'm most in control of my email, it is because I'm diligently following this rule.
- Act on it, Archive it, or Forget it! When it comes time to process your email, think A–A–F.
- Act on it. When you are processing your email that needs action you can choose to (1) do it immediately, or (2) record your action in your todo list and assign a date to do it. I recommend doing it immediately ONLY if it will take you just a few minutes (or if it is an emergency). If it is a larger task, resist the urge to start doing it and plan with your todo list to do it later.
- Archive it. Is it just information that you need to keep? Drop it in an archive folder (Resist the urge to have a complex folder system, just rely on searching). Act on emails still may require archiving.
- Forget it. Some email just isn't important to keep. If that's the case, be ruthless and hit that trash button!
- Choose a Better Communication medium. One of the problems with email today is that it has become a catch-all communication medium. But there are often better options that won't clog up your email. It is often hard to move out of the email communication ring, but if you get an email that requires a conversation, don't have a 20-message back and forth—just pick up the phone! While others should probably be picking up the phone to call you, the reality is that you need to take the initiative and just move to the phone. Another option that is ideal if you are in constant team communication, use an app like Slack or Asana and you'll cut down your email significantly (read one testimony here). Slack is being raved about by several leaders I read, and Asana is quite popular as well, though Asana moves beyond just communication into group projects and tasks.
- Aim for Inbox Zero! I love the satisfaction of having an empty inbox. I aim for inbox zero every week, and you can do it too! Here is how you can do it. The above six points (#3–8) will help you achieve inbox zero.
Stop letting email and other communication interrupt you. Use the 9 tips above to regain some semblance of sanity in your life. You can do it!
Any other tips? Put them in the comments below for others!