Often, I find myself buried in email with no end in site. I set aside time to dig out, only to be inundated by more emails. Email has been one of the biggest challenges to finding balance in my life. Here are some suggestions about how to handle your email:
- Tackle email after you get your big thing out of the way–Practicing, having time to think, or planning a new project are WAY more important and energizing. If you start with the black hole of email, chances are, you could spend your entire allotted time for big picture things responding to email.
Action: Look at your calendar and block off a two hour block each day before you open your email in order to tackle big things you’d like to accomplish.
- Schedule a time to check email–Check your email only AFTER you tackle your big thing for the day and keep yourself to a tight schedule for reading and responding. Generally, I check my email in late morning and mid-afternoon. Otherwise, I try to stay away.
Action: Block in two separate hours a day to check email and do not go beyond that time. Ideally, you’re only responding to email for one hour a day.
- Don’t focus on getting your inbox to zero–One of the challenges we all face in limiting ourselves to a set amount of time for checking email is that we strive to see an inbox sitting at zero.
Action: Instead of working to get your inbox to zero, which is short-lived, tackle the most important emails with the amount of time you have. Your priority should be in responding to the notes that have an immediate, direct impact on your work.
- Stop with the formalities–I tend to be a perfectionist with my emails, often taking time to write a nice opening sentence and wishing others well at the end. Important, but not necessary if you’re on the fly. I remember one time agonizing over every word I wrote when I sent an email to a person who was in a position of helping me get a job. I spent hours revising, cutting, pasting and getting the note just right, only to get a response in two minutes with a one sentence reply that had typos and grammatical errors. When I received that email, a light bulb went off….The flawed email actually didn’t bother me. What was more important for me was simply that the person replied.
Action: Use the 80-20 rule to create more efficiency in your email process. Can you compose an email in 20% of the time and get 80% functionality? The best way I’ve figured out to do this is to get rid of the formalities and just get down to business with every note.
- Turn off push notifications–Getting pinged when you receive an email is the worst. It takes you away from your train of thought and is a constant reminder that you are a slave to your email.
Action: Turn off your email notifications on your phone right now and don’t look back.
- Don’t check email before bed–Want to ruin a good night of sleep? Check your email before bed. I remember I once had a co-worker who was a night owl that loved to drop prickly emails right as I was about to go to sleep, effectively shooting adrenaline through my veins and keeping me up for several more hours. Nothing good can come from checking your email at night. Stop doing it.
Action: Charge your phone in the kitchen and stop looking at your screen before you go to bed.
Developing strategies for email to find balance can be difficult. Be persistent and treat this as something that needs to be worked on every day in order to find balance.
What strategies do you use to tackle your email? Let me know in the comments below.