More than 100 billion work-related emails are sent every day, according to some estimates.
Think about that for a second—100 billion. There are an estimated 2.8 billion people in the world with internet access. So if you divvied it up, each person is sending close to 40 emails per day. If each of those emails takes three minutes to read and respond to, that’s two hours of each day that are being spent on email!
It’s a crazy number—a quarter of the standard work day—and yet not at all hard to believe. If you don’t control your inbox, it’ll quickly come to control you.
It takes a bit of discipline (okay, a lot of discipline), but by following four simple guidelines, you can take back your life from the email monster once and for all.
Set Designated Check In Times
We’re definitely guilty of leaving our inbox in an always-open browser window, alerting us of each and every unread message like a nagging, persistent pest.
Rip off the band aid and X out of the browser window.
Instead of being perpetually on-call via your inbox, set designated times throughout the day to check in and respond to pressing matters.
Depending on your line of work, once a day may suffice just fine. Or, you may need a check-in window every few hours, at least to start.
What you’ll find is that most matters that come to you through your inbox aren’t nearly as urgent as you make them out to be. Next time you find yourself compulsively clicking over to look at your new message, ask yourself, is this something that absolutely couldn’t wait for a few more hours?
The answer is almost always no. In that case, you know the world will keep on spinning if you only check your email, say, first thing in the morning and after you come back from lunch.
Remember—if it’s a true emergency, they’ll call you.
Open It Once
The ‘mark unread’ button is the productive entrepreneur’s enemy.
But I rely on it to stay on top of urgent items!
No. It’s time to change your system.
When you habitually use ‘mark unread’ as your to-do list, a few unintended consequences happen. Not only do you waste 30 seconds reading an email you’re not going to address right now, but now you’ve got a tiny piece of your brain preoccupied with whatever was in the message (which, by the way, is known as the Zeigarnik Effect. We talk about it more in this post).
Stop marking emails as unread and deal with them as soon as you open them. This doesn’t mean you need to finish the entire task an email is addressing right now.
Instead, just take the next step that needs to happen to push the task forward. This might be as simple as creating a card for it on your Trello board or penciling it in on your ‘Tomorrow’ list. Whenever possible, though, don’t just leave it hanging out in your inbox.
Automate As Much As Possible
No matter what you do for a living, there are inevitably some emails you’re going to send over and over again. Maybe it’s a new client qualification form after you receive an inquiry. Maybe it’s your Friday reminder that time sheets are due.
Whatever these recurring emails are in your business, automate them.
For new client inquiries, for example, you might use a canned response that thanks the person for their inquiry and directs them to a questionnaire.
For regularly scheduled emails, like time sheet or invoice reminders, try using an app like Boomerang that allows you to set up recurring messages.
We’re also big fans of using virtual assistants, or VAs, to help you stay on top of your inbox. A great way to get started with a VA is to give them a single type of email to manage—maybe meeting requests or questions about your pricing—and walk them step by step through how you’d like them to respond.
Once they’ve learned a bit more about your company and have mastered your style of responding to emails, you can slowly delegate more types of messages for them to take on. It’s an up-front time investment that can eventually give you hours back each week.
Stick to Business Hours
Sometimes, you just can’t help but peek at your inbox on Saturday morning or late Tuesday night. That’s fine, and if it keeps you from having an anxiety attack, by all means indulge.
However, we strongly advocate for not sending emails outside of business hours. When you do, you send the message that you’re available 24/7. You’re not!
Instead of hitting send right now, draft your response and schedule it for the start of the next business day. You can do this directly within Outlook, or use a tool like Boomerang mentioned above for other email clients.
Do you feel like you're held captive by your inbox? Share your tips for fighting it in the comments below.
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Dealing with spam is another terrible hassle of managing your inbox. Purely for your entertainment, this is what happens when you reply to it--as told in a TED Talk by James Veitch. Too good not to share!