The average worker spends 41% of their time on email management, and the volume of email each of us receives is currently doubling every 4-5 years. More than half of all UK workers admit to being stressed by how much email they receive, and being distracted by email can be worse for your brain than being on drugs!
None of us are in business to send emails. Email is not our job, but it is a tool we use in our jobs. If you feel like email is doing you, rather than the other way around, it’s time to take control. Here are 5 tips to get you started.
1. Turn it off!
Think about it, your postman only comes once or twice a day. Would you welcome him delivering every letter individually? Would you check the door if you hadn’t heard a knock in the last few minutes?
Instead of reacting to emails as and when they come in, get into the habit of doing email when you choose. Only open it when you want to deal with emails. Close it down at all other times.
If that sounds too drastic, then experiment with closing it down for just 30 minutes when you really need to focus. Enjoy having your brain back to yourself, then see how much you’ve missed when you check back in. Chances are, it’s less than you think!
2. Set expectations
When I ask people what their biggest stresses are around email, these two always come up: not knowing when other people are going to get back to you, and being chased for a reply (you know, that phone call that starts with “did you get my email?”).
The problem with email is that there are no universal rules. Everyone has different expectations and email etiquette, so don’t assume or mind-read. Be specific about timings and expectations. Use your out of office or email signature to let people know when your working hours are, or when to expect a response. Ask people to text or call if there’s an emergency.
3. Be mindful
Have you ever asked yourself why you’re sending an email, or why you’re copying that person in? Email has become the default method of communication, and so often we use it without thinking. If you find yourself typing “not sure if that makes sense”, perhaps it’s time to pick up the phone. Instead of playing email ping pong to set up a meeting, use a shared calendar, or something like Doodle or Timetrade.
4. Turn off the notifications
If you don’t feel you can turn the whole thing off, then at least stop it pinging you every time you get an email. You can turn off the sound, the pop up, even the little flag on your mail icon that tells you you’ve got mail. That way you can start doing email when you choose. Because let’s face it, when that email pops up in the corner and you see who it’s from, even if you choose not to look at it straight away, it’s already stolen a little bit of your attention.
5. Treat your inbox as an inbox
Like the doormat where new post lands. Not a to-do list. Not a catch-all bucket. Not a “just in case” dumping ground. Don’t leave things piling up in your inbox. As soon as you do, it piles up quick. Once it goes beyond what fits on one screen, you’ll find yourself scrolling up and down, wondering what you’ve missed, what’s lurking, and where the heck that those ticket reservations are. Getting your inbox to zero for the first time can be a wonderfully liberating experience. Knowing how to keep it there will keep the email monster at bay and put you firmly back in control.