If you feel that your Inbox is getting out of control and that it takes up hopelessly too much of your time, you need to read this.
Most of us get too much email and spend too much time replying. Even if this is not the case, the chances are good that you will regularly check for new messages. Your attention is diverted and all the messages and information make you feel overwhelmed and you lose focus. This is when your Inbox becomes an impediment rather than an aid. If this is how you feel, the time has come to re-evaluate the management of your Inbox.
All of us want to dispose of our email as quickly as possible but the solution lies not only in how fast you can work through it, but also in the types of emails that you receive in your Inbox. It’s about how you use your time.
Make your email less
Do you really have time to read all the newsletters you receive? If not, make sure you click on the “unsubscribe” link at the bottom of the newsletter and get rid of unwanted email in this way. Do not accumulate newsletters ─ and other messages ─ in your Inbox. People don’t realise that an Inbox was never meant to be a storage site for messages.
Adam Boettiger is a speaker and expert on email management. He says one should follow this golden rule: “If an email message you are reading is going to take more than 5 minutes to read and reply to, it should be a telephone call.” It could sound as if it should be the other way round if one takes into consideration the cost of a telephone call, but he could be on to something. Boettiger claims that more information can be exchanged during a 2-minute telephone conversation than in a message that takes you 10 minutes to write and the other person 10 minutes to read. If you send messages that are too long, you could also expect the receiver not to read them properly (perhaps the first and last paragraphs).
How to handle new email
Than Pham is a blogger and a specialist in time management for organisations and personal productivity for managers. He says we waste a lot of time if we constantly read email as it arrives. Pham’s advice is that email should be read at fixed times of the day and for no longer than half an hour at a time.
The challenge is to switch off your email program and to know that it is quite acceptable to read emails only at fixed times of the day. Pham suggests that, if you get less than 30 emails a day, it should be sufficient to read your email at 10:00 and again at 15:00.
The same principle is proposed in the magazine Psychologies. In the article How to tame your Inbox the author, Oliver Burkeman, writes that one should experiment with times that will suit you, for instance reading email at 9:00, 14:00 and 17:00. If this proves to be a problem, start by first checking once every hour and from there on gradually making it less. You could even make it a rule never to read email at home and not receiving email on your smartphone.
The idea is to read messages when it suits you and not when your Inbox demands it.
When to return it
Most of us start our day by reading emails, but you really should try to do an hour’s work or finishing your most important task before opening your email. This is the first step in taking control of your day.
If you have a backlog of email, Burkeman suggests that one should move email older than two months to a separate file. Then spend only 20 minutes a day to work through it. You could even sort them into groups: “delete”; “references”; and “active”. When a new message arrives, you can also move it to one of these groups.
Adam Boettiger, 2015, “5 ways to save time on email”, Business Know-How.com, http://www.businessknowhow.com/internet/emailtime.htm.
Jeremy Dean, 2010, “Email’s dark side: 10 Psychology studies”, Psyblog, http://www.spring.org.uk/2010/09/emails-dark-side-10-psychology-studies.php.
Oliver Burkeman, 2014, “How to tame your Inbox”, Psychologies, https://psychologies.co.uk/work/life-lab-experiment-work-5.html.
Thanh Pham, 2015, “Five Simple Yet Effective Tips for Managing Your Email”, Lifehack.org, http://www.lifehack.org/articles/communication/five-simple-yet-effective-tips-for-managing-your-email.html.