Getting Control of Email

Addicted to the internet? Constantly checking your email? Challenge yourself to disconnect for just half a day. See if you can work yourself up to a full day, then an entire weekend. Impossible? Look to novelist James Sturm for inspiration; he went four months without the internet because he felt his addiction was a constant distraction, lowering his productivity level and deteriorating his relationships.

When I ask clients what their biggest time gobbler is, the answer I get most often is email. It seems we have a love/hate relationship with our inbox. However, if we don’t take control of our email, it controls us, our time and our life.

Here are my top ten proven tips on managing email.

1. Avoid checking email first thing in the morning. Work on priority task first.

2. Turn visual/auditory notification off to avoid distractions and multi-tasking.

3. Checking email takes longer than you think. Enforce a time limit – use a timer.

4. Empty inbox daily. The inbox should be used for new email only. You wouldn’t open snail mail and then put it back in the mailbox, so avoid reading email and leaving it in your inbox; act on it immediately:

o Decide what the first action is: reply, forward, file or delete.
o Reply immediately if you can do it in 2 minutes or less.
o For longer emails, or when you require more information, transfer to action folders and schedule time in your calendar to act on them.
o Some emails require no action. Delete or file as soon as you read.

5. For quicker responses, stick to one subject per email. Change subject line when you change topic, for easier filing/retrieving.

6. Be brief and to the point when sending emails. Start with what action you need the recipient to take. If longer than three paragraphs, call instead.

7. To save time and effort, create templates for common responses.

8. Limit FYIs and Ccs. Don’t clog the inboxes of friends and co-workers.

9. Check at scheduled times, a few times a day. We’re teaching people how to treat us by responding to emails instantly, 24-7.

10. Increase focus and get more done by creating an ’email free time zone’. Let everyone in the office know in advance that, during a specified time (one hour or more per day, one full day per month), you will not be responding to emails.

Email can be a great time-saver if used correctly. Once you have your email under control, you’ll be amazed at how much more productive your days will become.

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This post has 5 comments

  • Dave says:

    So, after reading your post, I decided to put tip number 1 into action and instead of starting the day off checking my email, I started off with the number one thing on my to do list. I sat down
    and finished putting together a presentation that I had been putting off for some time. To my amazement, I managed to finish it by 9:30 (I can see why it is a good idea to start the day with your highest priority – with more energy at the start of the day, you can accomplish much more in a shorter amount of time) and emailed it to my boss.

    Later on that day, my boss came by my desk to tell me that about 20 minutes after I had emailed the presentation to her, one of the Vice Presidents had called her because he needed the exact thing that I had finished that morning. So, the timing was perfect, and it was all due to the fact that I worked on it first rather than checking email. Thanks for the tip!

  • Michele says:

    LOVE these ideas – I feel overwhelmed with email and work to keep the email under 100. Clearly I needed this. I am going start right now clearing out my mailbox. The visual of the real mailbox will help me focus!
    Thanks!!

  • SARA says:

    I’m not kidding I have over 100,000 emails I don’t know what to do it’s given me chronic back pain its made me so lonely and depressed I tried to find someone in my area to help me but am out of luck I wish it would be gone I can’t bring myself to delete it all I just think then I’m missing out on something important I never thought email would take over my life but it has in the last 3 yrs
    I just pray to god give me the strength to delete it all in one single click

  • Liz says:

    My no. 1 priority in the morning is getting my coffee. 🙂 Then I’m free to do what I love- checking my email, especially reading my daily FlyLady one. Morning is my only time for respite- my days & evenings are almost never my own. I cherish it and am not relinquishing it! I do, however, empty my inbox every time I check my email, which is three to four times a day, and I always have. My mother keeps emails for months on end- she had over 1200 in her account at one time! After crashing the computer with her habit, I said no more & if it gets over 500 emails, that’s it- she has to sit her tail down and whittle them to a reasonable amount, no excuses. I can’t take it when people have an email account like that! No offense to anyone who may do that- but seriously, it’s bad for your computer and I would think it has to be so stressful. If I were in that position, I’d take fifteen minutes a day, as many times a day as I could, and de-clutter them.

  • Faith says:

    I am so good at this I think it has become avoidance behaviour! I find people often get upset with me because I don’t answer emails or texts instantly. I’m not sure if the problem is me – or their patience! I like the idea or setting scheduled times each day – it will remind me to do it, but I don’t have to feel the dread of having to sit at my computer for ages. Thanks for the tip!