Do you come back to an overflowing inbox after holidays and weekends? How does that affect your productivity?
Worse still, do you spend holiday or weekend time handling emails to avoid the ‘inbox shock’ on your return?
If you let emails determine what you will do next, you are giving other people the power to determine your priorities.
If there are days when what’s in your inbox sets your agenda, and you reach the end of the day feeling like you haven’t achieved anything, this tip is for you:
Remember these three elements that you have the power to control:
1. YOU decide when you will read and deal with your emails
The jobs where something terribly serious will happen if you don’t read and respond to an email immediately are very few.
It is OK to keep your email program closed except for the times you have decided, in advance, to view and process emails. Don’t worry if you have an email to send. Just open your email program temporarily via your Contacts tab or your CRM and avoid the temptation to check your inbox.
Try it for a while, and you’ll realise that in most cases, the sender will have forgotten their email until they receive your reply anyway. If it is urgent, they will call you.
And if you still have notifications on your screen or smartphone every time you receive and email, turn off that function immediately.
2. YOU control what makes it into your inbox
All email systems have within them the potential to reduce your inbox overwhelm — if you know how to use all their features.
Set up folders for the main categories of emails your receive, and then as emails come in, set up rules for how you want similar emails handled when they hit your inbox in the future. You will cut down on what makes it to your inbox — and your attention — in the first place.
One example would be to set up a rule for all emails from family and friends to go into a ‘Personal’ folder that you might check once a day or so.
Another example is to divert all regular newsletters you receive into a ‘Reading’ folder for you to read when you have time to catch up. The aim is to reduce distraction when you do check your inbox — at the scheduled time, of course!
While you’re sorting out your email folders and rules, you can also send emails from specific senders straight to spam, trash or delete, and you never need to see them at all.
To find out more about how to set up these features in your email program, simply use your favourite search engine.
3. YOU can get help if you need it
Constantly checking email and feeling the need to respond immediately is a habit (dare I say, addiction?) that you can cure with a mixture of willpower and support.
I found the strength I needed to break my habit with two Gmail plug-ins, ActiveInbox and UnrollMe, and you may find other apps for similar tasks in other systems. In my case, I use ActiveInbox mainly to classify emails, connect them to projects, add notes and decide when and how I’ll process them.
UnrollMe has made a huge difference to my working life. Simply installing it made it easy for me to unsubscribe from 728 email lists that I’d subscribed to over the years but were no longer relevant. All those regular emails I do want were then combined in a once-daily ‘Rollup’ that I scan to click and read anything of interest, as well as unsubscribe from any new subscriptions if they’re unwanted.
[Update July 2017: The latest tool in my ‘inbox toolbox’ is Drag. Quick to install and easy to learn, it’s perfect for those emails you want to keep for now because they are really tasks. A big bonus is that with Drag you organise them in the Kanban 3-column format of ‘To Do’ ‘Doing’ ‘Done’. And when you don’t need the reminder anymore, simply click a green ‘Archive’ button to see it disappear from your inbox. Using this system is another way to ensure your inbox only contains those emails that absolutely have to be there. Love it!]
All the ideas above will take a little time to implement and get used to, but the energy and stress you will save once you’ve put them in place will far outweigh the initial effort.
You have the power to change your relationship with your inbox. When will you start?
This article was originally published on MYOB’s blog, The Pulse. For more business news and tips, visit www.myob.com/blog.