Taming email overload

Image: Brilliant Email

Image: Brilliant Email

Yep. You know this routine. You come into work, immediately turn on your computer (believing that’s where the work gets done) and BAM. It hits you. You’ve got 410 emails, maybe 10 of which you to act on. Being a leader of today, you follow the age-old advice and start to clean out your inbox – a daily routine. Here’s what typically happens in that process:

    1. You delete a whole bunch of stuff without knowing if you really should.
    2. You take action based on ‘time it takes to take action’ rather than priorities.
    3. You file email somewhere that makes sense at that moment.
    4. You create a junk email folder and never look at the email in there again.

Managing email can consume your workday, and yet you’ll come back the next morning and BAM, 289 emails. An improvement from the day before, but still a challenge.

The fact is, you can’t escape email. But you can tame it, and reduce your stress and boost your productivity while you’re at it. Try these 5 tips:

1. Ruthlessly Unsubscribe
Ask yourself why you have so much email. Do you wake up to news of sales at Banana Republic, updates from the town council where you lived one summer, and daily deal offers for Botox? Do you really need to be cc’d on everything at work?

Spending some time unsubscribing now will save you considerable time and annoyance down the line. If you can’t unsubscribe from certain non-essential listserves, set up filters so the messages skip your inbox and go straight to a designated folder. Mark Hurst, a consultant and the author of Bit Literacy: Productivity in the Age of Information and E-mail Overload, offers this sage advice: “In order to de-stress, you have to do some work up front.”

2. Send Fewer Emails

When it comes to sending unnecessary emails, we’re our own worst enemies. We’ve all been guilty of emailing someone in the same room, or even the person sitting right next to us—and it has to stop.
Before you hit “send,” ask yourself: Is email the best way to communicate what I have to say? Would it be easier, faster, or more productive to just pick up the phone or to send an instant message? Or could I even walk over to somebody’s desk or office and speak to them—gasp!—face to face?

As Monica Seely, author of Brilliant Email: How to Win Back Time and Increase Your Productivity, notes, “The more you send, the more you’re going to receive.”

3. Empty your inbox!
Get emails out of your inbox as quickly as possible, said Hurst.
“The most common reason for overload,” Hurst argues in Bit Literacy, “is that people often use the inbox for purposes it wasn’t designed for … the inbox is appropriate only as a temporary holding place for emails, briefly before they’re deleted or moved elsewhere.”
Hurst’s solution is to get every message to the right place as quickly as possible. Reply to emails that take less than two minutes to answer, file or archive what needs to be filed, put action items on a to-do list, and put calendar items on your calendar.

“Put everything where it belongs,” Hurst said. “Once that’s done, your inbox is empty.”

4. Eliminate Distractions
Email overload isn’t just annoying and counterproductive—it can actually be bad for your health.
The sound of the new email ping from your phone or computer can actually raise your heart rate and blood pressure, says Joanne Cantor, author of Conquer CyberOverload: Get More Done, Boost Your Creativity, and Reduce Stress. But that’s not all—being interrupted by the new email takes our attention away from the task at hand: the work we’re actually doing. It takes time to get focused again after checking your inbox, Cantor said, extending the time it takes to actually get stuff done.
So for the sake of your health (and efficiency), try, try, try not to check your email as often. You probably won’t miss much. A survey last year from Mimecast, a company that builds email management software, found that only 39 percent of business email is “essential” or “of critical importance” for work.

5. Own Your Inbox (Don’t Let It Own You)

There are a number of email productivity apps—Mailbox, Boxer and Sanebox—that promise to help people organize their inboxes. But Hurst said that more than apps and tools, successful email management requires a change in our relationship with technology—specifically, being disciplined and taking responsibility for our own habits.

“You—the user— are in control,” Hurst said. “The human is the most important part of the system—not the latest tool, not the latest feature. And as long as people abdicate that responsibility [of email management] to the technology, they will remain stressed and overloaded and anxious.”

How do you make sure email doesn’t control your life?

About Guest Blogger

Guest blogger for TDS Home.

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