It’s a new year and we’re already overwhelmed with the amount of “Get This Year Started Right”-themed articles being shared around. As with the influx of gym memberships in January – by March, we’ll have soon forgotten all the things we intended to do right this year and back into our old habits. But mismanaging your email time is something that you need to fix now, and make the changes stick for good.
I’m sure you’ve seen the flurry of “Email is the death and destruction of our society” article a million times before. And while this isn’t necessarily a rebuttal of those points – it is a way to take ownership in how email dictates your daily schedule, stresses you (and your team) out and distracts you from actually getting work done.
Your inbox isn’t an extension of your to-do list. ‘Inbox Zero’ isn’t a thing that you necessarily need to achieve at all times. (Although, the look of an empty inbox is very satisfying.
Treat your inbox as it should be – some people either asking you questions, requesting that you complete a task or just saying hi. All emails don’t need to be responded to quickly. And all emails don’t need to be responded to period. Did you really need to send an email with “OK” as the only thing in the body? Is that “thank you” really necessary every time you send it? Probably not.
Think about the times you’ve corresponded over 6+ reply cycles with someone. How many of those emails were unnecessary? Could the conversation been taken to a phone call or an in-person meeting to get the issue resolved more quickly? Emails add to your workload and stress rather than take away, even if you’re sending an email to delegate a task. So instead of adding more work to your schedule and the person(s) who are receiving your emails – think about how to minimize that time. According to a study by Carleton University, people spend a third of their work day checking emails. And 30% of those emails were looked at as neither important nor urgent.
So stop sending pointless emails, seriously.
Another thing I’m trying this year is scheduling the amount of time I look at my inbox. I’m going to start and finish my day with a little inbox clearing. Disregarding/filing emails that don’t need replies, setting other emails as tasks in my to-do app (Omnifocus, in case you were curious) and responding to ones that do need some additional attention. I’ll probably take a little time after lunch to look in and see if anything needs an urgent reply. If not – back to work. Using Gmail or various other email apps, you can temporarily hide or schedule emails to reappear when it’s more convenient for you. So you can achieve that ‘Inbox Zero’ feeling without actually having to spend the time responding to the 50 emails that came in overnight from your boss.
Hear me when I scream this at the top of my lungs: 98% OF CC’S ARE UNNECESSARY. Seriously, stop it. And if you’re the guy/gal that replies back with witty repartee like Michael Scott from The Office, your email should be taken away from you.
I’ve been on nonprofit boards, I’ve been on teams and we’ve all been overwhelmed in a group discussion that’s taken place over email. Email was not made to be a message board or discussion forum. If this is how your team communicates, look into Slack or any other team communication tool.
Over CC’ers are just lazy. CC’ing the boss to let him/her know that he’s ‘on the job’ or the go-getter from down the hall CC’ing everyone to impress them with their insight. And you should be docked a day’s pay if you’ve ever hit reply-all just to send ‘Haha’ to the group after Frank’s bad joke.
This might not work for everyone. If you’re an on-call heart surgeon or you’re holding the codes for the upcoming nuclear winter, leave your notifications on. Otherwise, you’re probably OK if an email goes unseen for an hour or so. (I feel the panic in some of you thinking about an email going unread for an hour.)
Checking your notifications is addicting. You can spend all day making sure all the red dots are removed from the apps on your phone. Don’t. It’s OK if Nancy’s email about Friday’s meeting being moved back doesn’t get seen until this afternoon. If Larry’s email about his kid being sick and leaving early today isn’t seen until he’s already gone, the earth will likely continue to revolve around the sun. If what they sent was important and time-sensitive, it shouldn’t be sent via email.
Notifications will pull your focus away from the tasks that you had intended to complete in your day. If answering Nancy & Larry’s emails weren’t part of your morning to-do list, don’t let them sneak on there until you are ready to tackle them. Nothing is more important to your morale and your time management then what you set out to accomplish in your work day.
Email isn’t going anywhere any time soon. It’s been a key tool in our growth as an online community and will continue to evolve. But how you manage and treat your inbox is almost entirely under your control. I’m making the resolution to not let email dictate my schedule or run my life. How about you?