Yesterday, once again, I found myself staring at my phone screen, checking my email. I was at the poolside while my daughter was having her swimming lesson.
Now – I love watching my daughter – but I am not good at sitting for long, and running a business from home means that I do have to grab time as and when I can – and so I told myself that a useful extra job I could get done was checking my email. I could do both and then not have to look at the email later that evening.
In reality I wasn’t giving my attention to either the email or more importantly my little girl.
It made me think.
Are we letting email run out lives too much, and is there a way to do it differently?
I have pulled together loads of ideas to help you with your inbox management so that you run your email and not the other way around, and I hope that one or two of them help you as well to end email overwhelm and take back control once and for all.
© Lasse Kristensen | Dreamstime.com
Tip #1 Wait until you can act on it
This is the single most important thing I ask myself before I open my email. If I open something that needs me to do something urgently – can I do it?
If the answer is NO – then I simply don’t look.
My example of sitting by the poolside is a perfect one – lets takes it further.
What if I opened an email that showed a client was having some troubles with something and needed my help urgently, or there was a form I needed to fill in for school and it had to be done that day.
What can I actually get done sitting there by the pool? I don’t have a printer, I can’t call a client as its unprofessional to have splashing in the background, and I may not have paperwork in front of me that I need etc….
All that opening that email has succeeded in doing is to make me agitated, possibly stressed, and I am likely to rush home to deal wit the issue, making any time spent with my daughter less than calm – and that’s not fair to anyone.
Face facts and be realistic. If you can’t act on email there and then, don’t open it.
Tip #2 – Schedule time for email and give it your full attention
Pick a time that works for you, and only check your email at that time. It can be time wasting to say the least to check and recheck every few minutes – you never give the other things you are doing your full attention.
I have tried a few times of the day to check email, and what works best for me is near the end of the day, with my diary and my TO DO list in front of me so I can put anything into those straight away so its all dealt with in one fell swoop.
At the start of the day, a few emails that need things actioning can sap most of the morning, and the main TO DOs of the day can fall by the wayside so quickly, so this isn’t a perfect time for me as I want to make the most of my day.
At the end of the day, hopefully your most important scheduled jobs have been done, and you can go through your email in a more relaxed way.
Waiting until you can give thing 100% attention will save you time as well – and help you get more organised.
Worried that you people are waiting for a response? well why not try…
Tip #3 – Set an out of hours response
Whether or not you work from home, get into the habit of setting an out of hours autoresponse email when you aren’t going to be checking your email.
In it you could say something like “I am not at my desk/computer right now, but my email is checked once a day, if you need a quick reply please call me on XXXXXX but I will respond within 2 days – thank you!”
This sets everyones expectations, and you know that people won’t be worried if they don’t hear straight away. Unfortunately in todays society we all expect answers immediately – which can cause extra unnecessary stress – so taking that out of the equation works really well as you know that if someone really needed you they know to call instead.
Tip #4 – Minimise your inbox
Can you see the wood for the trees?
When you have a cluttered inbox, then the simple task of checking email can take a lot longer than really required.
I try (not vry successfully a lot of the time!) to have an empty inbox when I have finished going through my email. This means that everything has either been deleted, actioned and filed, or filed away.
Yes, there are some emails that stay there for a day or so as I need them, but in the main this should be able to be done. It then means that I can scan the inbox quickly to see what has come in that day – and I don’t have to waste time scanning through things I am not sure whether I have already done or not.
To do this, I cancel any newsletters that I don’t read, and I unsubscribe to emails I get from random companies where I seem to have got on their mailing list (there’s usually an unsubscribe button if you look at the bottom of each email).
I basically try and do all I can to ensure that my inbox is what I really need to get, and hopefully that then minimises dealing with 300+ emails each day.
Tip #5 – Use your files
One of the best ways to file I have found is to file by WHAT and WHO.
This means that if my friend Becky emails me, I file under FRIEND-BECKY. If a new client called wendy emails then I file under CLIENT-WENDY etc…. that way I can find a trail of a conversation easily – and I can group people together as well.
It also works well when I come to declutter my files – for example, client emails from 4 years ago can be deleted file by file – I only need to keep the last email for a trail of a conversation with a friend – so I can delete quickly if they are all filed together.
This keeps emails to a minimum, and easy to access – again saving time and helping you run your email!
Tip #6 – Keep a TO READ file
We all have them, emails that we want to read properly at some point, but that aren’t time specific. These could be newsletters, updates from your favourite websites etc…. – whatever they are, file away in a TO READ file and then you always know where to go to have something to read when you have the time, but they are not cluttering up your in box.
This is also a great way to start to realise what you do and don’t have time for – because if you don’t open that file for weeks at a time, it may be worth simply getting rid of the subscriptions as you aren’t using them anyway.
Tip #7 – Lose the notifications
My pet peeve is the phone.
People assume that they always have to pick up when it rings – no matter what they are doing and who they are with etc….
Its a lot easier since mobiles have caller recognition, as you can more easily work out whether you really need to pick up or not – but for the most part it really is OK to let the phone go to voicemail.
If someone needs you urgently they will call again, or leave a message – but the simple act of answering the phone when you are busy means that you lose the track of what you were doing, and it takes longer to do everything.
Its exactly the same with email.
Turn off any notifications you get (i.e. your mobile buzzes with each new email, or facebook update etc….). If you don’t hear it then you are less likely to be tempted to see what it is.
This in itself will make a huge difference.
Email is an invaluable tool, but just like everything in life, it can take over if you let it.
It has its place, and should be prioritised accordingly.
Its a never ending pipeline straight to your attention – and can be one of the biggest distractions of your day.
By allocating specific time to email, using files and your inbox properly, and taking back the control – you should end up running your email rather than the other way around.
Whats your main issue when it comes to email? Let me know in the comments below