Updated: Nov 20, 2019
Did you read that title and think yep, that sounds about right or like me, did you completely cringe at the thought of that? Quite frankly, just writing that gave me anxiety. I will be honest though, at one point my inbox looked a bit more like this. That was until I thought that I might actually be going crazy…I was constantly stressed, unorganized, unable to keep up and letting things fall through the cracks continuously…which of course only exacerbated the situation due to the follow-up emails I was receiving. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to realize that this is no way to work and that it certainly won’t get you very far in the business world. The reality is, you CAN be in control and you CAN leave your inbox each day with ZERO unread messages. Sure, you may wake up at 5 am to 50 new ones but this is a new day and at the end of this day you can achieve ZERO once again (hooray!). Maybe you still don’t believe me and are thinking “pshhh, well, I get hundreds and hundreds of emails a day.” To that I say “pshhh, me too, all while my unread inbox is at zero.”
Most of you are picking and choosing the emails that you open, and address based on who it’s from, the subject line, or when you are actually sitting at your desk and you see that lovely notification come through. STOP IT! Sure, there are certain priorities and the dreaded “fire drills” that make this strategy necessary at times, but to the extent possible, read emails in the order in which they come in. I didn’t say action or address them in that order, just read them and decide what action is required. Start from your oldest item and utilize the following approach: 1) If it is junk (i.e. a vendor who you have no interest in doing business with) delete it and move on. Well perhaps, unsubscribe from the email list and then delete it. 2) If it takes less than 5 minutes to address, take care of it, get it done. I would also add that responding to messages that don’t necessarily require a response and are more of an “all done boss” kind of email is a must. Be a decent person and acknowledge the communication. It will literally take you 2 seconds to say, “thank you” and make that persons day. 3) If the email is a bit of a doozy and is going to take some time to respond, determine the next action you need to take to address the email, create a task for yourself to complete, and move on. Don’t stress out about the email now or spend 30 minutes deciding how best to respond. Create a task and move on and reserve the time and energy you will need to actually take the action that is required, for the time in which you set aside and designate for task completion. 4) If it an email that is going to take longer than 5 minutes to read but is more for informational or educational purposes and does not require an actual response, go ahead and file that one away in the designated folder for you to visit during the time that you’ve set aside for yourself for this category of work.
Managing your email box in this manner is made possible by a few other critical pointers that completely changed my life. Ready for them? OK, first, turn off your email notifications. The average office worker gets 121 emails each day. That is an average of 121 interruptions each day when that notification window shows at the bottom of your screen. To add to that, it takes an average of 25 minutes to refocus after being interrupted from your original task. No wonder you don’t have time to read your 20,533 outstanding emails. Instead, turn off your notifications and read your emails when you choose. This brings us to the second recommendation which is to have specific email processing times. Your inbox doesn’t have to be directly staring you in the face ALL day. Based on your daily schedule, your role and the email traffic you are receiving, choose times that work best for you. For me personally, I check my email at the top of every hour. It is now 12:30pm so I don’t know what my email inbox looks like now nor will I look because I am busy, but I will tell you what I did at 12:00. At 12:00 I had 15 new unread emails. 2 of them were short general informational only organizational emails (I immediately opened and read - done). 8 more were from team members that were either FYI’s, thank you’s, or contained simple questions (I opened, read and responded as appropriate – done). 3 were educational (i.e. news and industry publications). For these, I moved to their designated folder so that I can read during my designated time set aside for learning and development each week (which happens to be on Friday’s) – done. And finally, 2 require some time, research and energy. I responded to these individuals letting them know that I would need some time to research and that I would be in touch (that’s just the courteous thing to do here folks) and then I created very specific tasks for myself related to these 2 emails that require my response (see blog post Re-Do Your To-Do’s).
See, I told you that it’s possible…you CAN end your day accomplished, feeling satisfied, and in control, and even further your credibility and career along the way.