“My inbox is out of control!” Have you ever found yourself facing this frustration? Given how reliant most of us are on email these days, it doesn’t take much to drift into the world of the chronic over-emailers left to drown in our inboxes. My personal quest used to be to keep from having a scroll bar, which usually meant having only about 10-15 emails sitting in front of me at any given time. But as the work load increased and the days grew busier, I settled into a sense of accomplishment if I could even keep that number below 100 at the end of the day. I would watch the total at the bottom of my inbox like it was a game, never walking away from my desk unless only double digits were present. The truth is, it wasn’t accomplishment that this mission fostered, it was stress.
Many of us work in environments where email dictates our every move. It has become our primary source of communication and it can be incredibly effective, but it is also slowing us down. A study by McKinsey and Company showed that the average worker spends 28% of their work week just reading and answering emails. This is a tremendous number, and it’s only an average statistic. We have grown addicted to checking and responding to email because it’s with us constantly these days, and it seems impossible to look away. So how do we change this? How do we gain back our productivity? Short of going to a support meeting, “Hi, I’m Tracie and I’m a chronic over-emailer,” there are some techniques that just might help rein in your inbox and subsequently – your time.
1. Consideration. First and foremost, consider the message you are trying to deliver. Would it be better done over the phone? Time spent on the phone may ultimately prevent a number of back and forth responses through email.
2. Short and Sweet. When you do email, keep your message to the point. Create a general rule for yourself, never going over 4 or 5 concise sentences when possible.
3. Use of CC/BCC. Consider if you need to copy your boss or co-worker on every email, maybe a weekly catch-up meeting is more appropriate to cover some items. Also, use caution before replying to all on an email chain. Does a simple “thank you” response really need to go out to everyone, or are you just creating clutter for others?
4. Schedule Time. Set up various times of day that you intend to address emails. Some suggest just twice a day, but for many people who rely heavily on email, you might consider a 10-minute window each hour. Find a schedule that works for you, but whatever your plan is, stick to it. To help keep your focus on other tasks when you are not within your scheduled email-checking window, consider turning off your email alerts. I know it’s a difficult step, but it’s highly beneficial. While this may not work in every environment, some people have even been known to set an auto-response to let those who are emailing know that they are currently working in an email-free zone, and if the message is urgent, a call is preferable.
5. It’s Not a To-Do List. Stop using your inbox as a to-do list. Instead, create an actual to-do list so that you can finally file those emails away. Another helpful tip is to consider creating two email folders to help manage the process: Requires Response and Requires Action. Move the appropriate emails to these boxes, and everything else should be filed in their final resting places. Then, you can go back during your scheduled email working times and clearly address what needs attention.