As you’re reading this post – and as I’m writing it – our email inboxes are filling with a host of notifications, information, offers and requests …all shouting for our attention.
You may know the expression from Charles R. Swindoll, “Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it.”
I like to apply this principle to email.
The emails will come in regardless, but we can control how we respond.
If you’re feeling controlled by your emails, it’s time to pull in the reins.
Here are 5 rules to help put those emails in their place:
1. Disable Alerts. Every time we’re alerted of a new incoming email, our tendency is to stop everything and respond. The issue is, often the incoming message isn’t urgent. Additionally, this constant interruption pulls our focus from our current task at hand. This means we have to repeatedly reset our focus to resume the work we were doing before. According to a study performed by Loughborough University this average recovery time is around 64 seconds. May not sound long, but consider the impact over the course of your day. Take a few minutes and disable all sound alerts, new message notifications, pop-up dialogue boxes, the works. You’ll notice you’ll work with improved focus and concentration without the constant bombardment of interruptions.
2. Set Up Folders For Workflow. Emails are not created equally in the actions or next steps they represent. Therefore keeping them all as a jumbled mix of action, read, reference, etc sitting in our inbox is information overload in itself. If you’ve read David Allen’s Getting Things Done, you’ll be familiar with the notion of setting up a few folders to direct emails based on their context. Create just a few that make sense for you and the type of email you receive. Some standards include: ‘@Action’, ‘@Waiting For’, ‘@Read’. As David Allen suggests, include the @ at the beginning of each title so these folder categories appear prominently at the top of your folders list. As you process your emails to remove them from your inbox, you’ll have holding areas that separate your emails by context. Articles to read at your leisure will no longer fight with requests that require a response.
3. Schedule Processing Appointments. Remember this, emails arrive at a time that’s convenient for the sender. But it doesn’t mean we have to stop and respond immediately, or else we’d spend all day responding to email and not performing our key tasks. It may feel counterintuitive if you’re used to checking your emails constantly, but resolve to process emails at select intervals throughout the day. As an example, you might schedule 10.00, 14.00 and 17.00 for thirty minutes or an hour each accordingly. If something is truly urgent or important the sender can find alternate ways to contact you.
4. Don’t Look If You Can’t Act. We’re all guilty of taking that last fatal glance at emails just before a committed activity such as on our way into a meeting, before starting that deadline assignment or just before bed. And what happens? We spot an email that needs attention but now we’re stuck and can’t do anything about it. The result is that the activity we’re now engaged in doesn’t have our full attention because we’re distracted by the email. Tempting as it may be, avoid checking emails until you’re in a position to respond.
5. Stop Checking Email First Thing. Some of us look at our emails before we’ve gotten out of bed! Checking emails before we’ve had a chance to start the day is a slippery slope. We risk getting stuck in there for hours, wasting time that could be used advancing important projects – especially when our energy is at its peak. Make an effort to start the day in the driver’s seat. Make your plan of attack for the day, work on something important, then launch the emails at your first scheduled email interval.
Remember, treat emails on your terms.
Your productivity will soar and you’ll regain an improved sense of control over your inbox.
Simplify your email management. Commit today and implement the rules above.
What else do you do to make email work for you?