Recently I had a very dramatic, childlike meltdown. It went something like this: “I’m so stressed! I can’t get any work done because my inbox is out of control. Why do people keep emailing me? None of this is important. I hate email! I wish email would die!!!”
I’m sure you would all agree that the pressure to stay on top of emails is exhausting.
But at the start of the year I promised myself I’d finally set some boundaries, so it doesn’t feel like I’m constantly being held hostage by my inbox. And here are the self-imposed rules that are helping me form better habits…
DON’T KEEP YOUR INBOX OPEN THROUGHOUT THE DAY
It’s no surprise that I felt completely overwhelmed, because I used to have my inbox open all day. It was always the first open tab in my browser, and it caused so much chaos. I would start working on a blog post, and within a few minutes I’d catch sight of my email alerts. “I better check what that’s about,” I’d think, and this would quickly spiral into a 15 minute email session, and usually get me started on a completely new task altogether.
As I’m sure you can agree, that is not a productive way of working. So do not keep your inbox open throughout the day. It will just distract you from the work you’ve already prioritised and slow down productivity.
SCHEDULE 30 MINUTUE EMAIL SESSIONS
So you’ve closed your inbox. Now what? How often should you check it? And when should you actually reply to emails? I don’t think there’s one right answer here, because what works for some will be a nightmare for others. Personally I’m trying to get into the habit of scheduling three 30 minute email sessions a day – one in the morning, one around lunchtime and another late afternoon. This way I don’t miss anything urgent, and the time limit stops me from neglecting my actual work.
SET UP CANNED RESPONSES
This sounds like an exaggeration, but I almost cried tears of joy when I discovered how to create canned responses in Gmail. They are such a life saver! So if you constantly find yourself typing out the same response to frequently asked questions (like an RSVP, for instance) set up a pre-prepared email that you can send out at a click of a button. It will free up so much time.
IF YOU’RE OUT-OF-OFFICE BE OUT-OF-OFFICE
I love putting my out-of-office response on when I travel, but it always leaves me with a sense of guilt. It’s as if we’ve been programmed to believe you have to be working (and reachable) 365 days a year to be successful, and if you’re not you’ve somehow failed. However, I recently listened to Aziz Ansari’s Freakonomics interview and suddenly felt my perspective shift. Here’s what he said:
“When I started filming my TV show [Master of None] I just set up a thing that said, this email is dead. I’m not checking email. If the world’s gonna end you can call me… And you know what you realise? All that s**t people email you about all the time, all day, none of it is important… I found that I’m much more focused when I don’t have those little questions. And then I can focus on what I’m doing throughout the day.”
So if you’re out-of-office be out-of-office. Take that long weekend you’ve been looking forward to and actually enjoy it; or dedicate an entire day to a creative project and give it your full attention. Because (unfortunately) your emails will still be there when you get back…
Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in May 2016.
How do you manage email effectively? Leave a comment below to share your experiences…
Photos by Victoria Metaxas