Ever feel like with each swing of the sword (the delete key), the e-mail monster only grows stronger? It punishes us for every moment of indecision by complicating our lives. And one day we wake up trying to figure out what time our meeting is by scanning through 300 e-mails in our inbox. Our future seems hopeless.
I understand thes thoughts, but I can't afford to be inefficient with e-mail. It's not fair to me or anyone in my life. So here are some ways that I do to try to tame the monster:
1. Limit when I check e-mail.
If I allowed e-mail to get my attention every time that it came in, I'd never get to focus on a project for more than a few minutes. I know that I've done my best work when I've gone a few hours, not only without checking messages, but without even thinking about checking them. So I know when I'm productive, but it's easy to let e-mail disrupt this time.
When I first got a smart phone, it notified me of new e-mails. This was a horrible idea, because I was always prone to check it (even if I was in the middle of studying or playing with my kids). Now, I check my e-mail about every 60-90 minutes (or sooner if I'm working on a project via e-mail). Basically, I check it when I switch gears, and I allow myself a few minutes to scan for ones that I want to respond to immediately, such as e-mails from our staff team in which a response will assist them.
2. Use folders/labels efficiently.
G-mail calls them labels, while other e-mail platforms call them folders. I have a few that are permanente permanent, broad categories that I will utilize at least monthly, such as Staff, 2:20 (a Food Pantry that I help lead), Blackbox Int (for whom I'm a Trustee) etc., Four are temporary ones (like e-mails that pertain to a conference I'll be attending next month). When the conference ends, I will delete it. Setting up filters to automatically send some e-mails to certain folders may be great for you too.
I used to have only one folder that was called "Keepers." That system worked for a while, but it ended up working as well as a filing cabinet with only one huge stack of papers.
3. Do something with it.
Organizational gurus wisely advise people to only touch paper one time before doing something with it. We are to read it and immediately decide where it goes (a file, the trash, or somewhere else). I'm trying to implement a similar rule with e-mail. I'll allow myself to scan the subjects, but once I open and read it, I need to answer it, delete it, move it to a label/folder, forward it, or any combination of those actions. Often times, I need to add something to my calendar or my to-do list too. I make myself do that right then.
If for some reason I need more time to answer the e-mail, but I need to get to it that week, I'll leave it in my inbox. But my goal is to empty my inbox by the end of the week. Not only does this help me, but it is kind to all the people who need my reply.
4. Schedule some times to tackle e-mails.
I need about 30 minutes a day to tackle e-mails and voice mails, so I need to build this into my schedule. Of coarse, some days don't need this, but some days present urgent and important issues.
I need a few minutes on my calendar to review the folders/labels at the end and beginning of every week. If I don't, they'll end up crammed full of out-of-date e-mails.
I also have some set time weekly to read a few e-publications that I receive.
5. Take the 20 seconds, when needed, to unsubscribe from anything that I can live with out.
6. Ask my co-workers to not send e-mails that are irrelevant to me.
I always make a point to do this when I'm going to be out of the office for a few days. I tell my staff that I may have time to check my e-mail, but they can make this a lot easier on me if I don't have to read about things that are only pertinent to those in the office that day. (If I'm in Chicago, I don't need to know that they'll be testing the church fire alarm.)
7. Have an itchey trigger finger.
Confession: I often just delete e-mails that are obviously forwarded funny, political, or religiously cheesy ones (especially if they are sent from people who send EVERYTHING). Did these people used to copy Reader's Digest cartoons and mail them to every friend in their address book? It's just poor stewardship of my time to spend chunks of my day reading these.
Some of these e-mail abusers (even though they are friends) are now kindly on my Spam list. Some of these folks quit sending me hoax e-mails after I took the 60 seconds to send them, and everyone they sent the e-mail to, a link from snopes.com debunking whatever the hoax of the day might have been. It's just one way that I'm serving society.
So, get out there and tame your e-mail monster before it has you for lunch, and tell me your tips too.