I‘ll just say it: my email inbox is out of control. As someone who feels rather “with it” in several arenas of life, I’ll publicly admit that my inbox is not one of those places. Above is a screenshot of just a portion of my inbox — obviously I’m behind.
A few months ago, I managed to fully process my inbox. I went to bed with zero email.
The next morning, a few hours later, I had 38.
I’ve written posts about how to successfully handle email, but that was before my inbox became something of an untamable beast. I’ve read plenty other posts about how to best handle email — classic productivity gurus have espoused their solution with confidence.
Short of declaring total email bankruptcy (which believe me, is tempting), I’ve decided to make peace with my inbox in my own way. Because otherwise, it’ll do me in, mentally, physically, and emotionally.
1. Unsubscribe, unsubscribe, unsubscribe.
I’ve unsubscribed to just about every mailing list or newsletter out there. I don’t read them anyway, so why bother? They’re not useful to me, and I’m obviously not the target market for those sending them out. I’m wasting their time.
I also think loooooong and hard before signing up on any email lists. Very few are worth it to me — seeing them sit there cause me stress, and they dilute the visibility of the truly valuable emails.
2. Delegate, delegate, delegate.
A few months ago I asked my virtual assistant, Jenny, to handle some of my email (among other tasks). Kyle also receives the email from PR reps, answers the ones he knows how to answer, and forwards me any email from the contact form that I would want to see (like messages from you readers, asking me a question or saying something nice). He saves me the trouble of reading spam, impersonal pitches, or not-so-nice emails from other sorts of people. He’s a great guy.
But it’s not enough — somehow, I still have too much daily email. So when Jenny returns from her maternity leave, I hope to delegate even more email to her. (Hi Jenny! Reading this? I like you.)
3. Attack my inbox like a sniper, not like the mob.
You know those campy mobster movies, where the guys in suits holding tommy guns pull out their weapon and start firing at random, leaving holes in the walls and busting windshields?
That’s how I’ve been handling email: leaving my weapon out for easy access (my inbox), and randomly attacking messages in hopes that I hit a target called “progress.” It’s not working.
I now plan to be a sniper. My literary agent, Jenni (the other Jenny/i in my life), recently let her authors know that she’ll only be processing email twice per day. Leaving her email up all day, she wasn’t getting any quality work done. I wanted to rise up and call her blessed.
Following the advice recently shared on Michael Hyatt’s blog, I’m also returning to my roots of closing my email all but twice per day. I’ll check it once in the morning, and again in the late afternoon. I’ll close out everything else, and only process email for 30 minutes at each sitting.
Those who know me well know how to find me if it’s urgent. I’ve yet to encounter a true email emergency where I’m glad I had my inbox open all day.
4. Don’t touch it until I can take action.
I’ll skim my unread messages and quickly find the most important — they’re from my family, my friends, or a work contact. I’ll read them. But if they need more than a one sentence response, you know what I’ll do?
I’ll mark them as unread. As though somehow, I’m tricking myself into thinking I don’t have to respond because I haven’t yet opened it.
Just plain silly. I’m going back to my roots of only opening email if I can truly take action right then. If I don’t have time, it can wait until my next email session.
5. Redefine “action.”
Honestly, there’s plenty of email that I can just read and either archive or delete. The ones that need a response usually only need a quick one. The writer in me wants to equal my response’s length to the original email’s. But when I wait to make the time to write that lengthy, well-written email, it just never happens.
What would those emailers prefer? A grammatically-correct, beautifully written prose that perfectly spills my thoughts and emotions… but a month later than they were hoping? Or a timely response, perhaps a bit on the short side, but to the point and satisfactory, while still being friendly?
I’m going back to my stance of a five sentence limit. I can count on two hands the times each year I need to write a much longer email that requires a lot of thought. I can make a special occasion for those.
Oh, and I’ll pay it forward for those I’m emailing, adding a short-but-friendly “No need to respond” to each of my messages that only require their eyeballs, not their keyboards. I love it when people do that for me.
6. Make peace with the beast.
All this means there’s a good chance I won’t see “You have no new email messages” from Gmail anytime soon. Or ever. But I’ve decided to be okay with it.
When did it become the mark of a successful day if I got through all my email? When did that trump laundry folding or book reading? I don’t feel guilty when I go to bed and my dishes aren’t perfectly stacked in evenly spaced rows, or that the spines of our books aren’t perfectly aligned on the shelf.
So why does my stomach churn when I open my inbox and see email that I still haven’t opened? It’s really not that big a deal, when you think about it.
Email won’t ever depart my life, and I’m awfully glad I have access to this useful, free tool. But it’s time to give it the rightful place it deserves: just one of several things I do in a productive day. It’s not my master.
What are your favorite tricks for slaying the email beast?