Or how I learned to stop worrying and just delete everything.
Seriously. Email. It’s the bane of many peoples lives and we all have to deal with it, and live with it. Or do we?
Once upon a time, I used to be obsessive over my email. I used to stay awake at night thinking to myself “Do I need to check my email?”. It’s stressful, and a pain constantly feeling the need to check them.
It was a problem. And I imagine that it is probably a problem for you as well. Email has become a chore. And like all chores, the best answer is dealing with them quickly and efficiently, rather than letting it build up to a point where your email inbox is in the hundreds or thousands of emails.
1. Setting aside time for your emails
So step one is simply moving to a system where you only deal with emails at certain times. I like to do it twice a day, for at most an hour. 30 minutes in the morning, and 30 minutes in the evening.
By switching to a limited amount of time to deal with them all, it helps to put you in the more militant mind set needed to deal with emails.
And by having two periods of time a day, you can deal with emails from the previous night, and emails you’ve accrued during the day.
This is honestly the hardest step. Much like Facebook, checking email can be an addiction.
2. Categorizing emails
So now that you’re only checking your emails twice a day, you need to know how to deal with them. In my experience there are 4 types of emails
- Emails you delete straight away
- Emails you reply to straight away
- Emails you need to do something first and then reply to
- Emails you might be interested in
All emails broadly speaking fall into those categories. Once you get to grips with that dealing with your email becomes so much easier. I’ll be talking about each of those categories below.
As for how to categorize your emails. You don’t want to spend all your time reading emails to decide how to categorize them. So you need to start looking at emails in a simpler way.
In your inbox you need to look at just the Sender, the Subject line and the little 1 line preview of the email. That’s usually more than enough information to decide which category it falls into. Once you’ve decided what category an email falls in, you deal with it.
3. Deleting emails
This is the easy one. Spam falls into this category. One line replies thanking you for a piece of work fall into here as well. Adverts and offers usually fall into here. Simply archive the crap out of these, without even wasting time on them.
Quick, ruthless and efficient. They don’t need to stick around in your inbox and they are providing no value, only clutter.
4. Emails you deal with immediately
These are emails that you can reply to straight away. People’s requests for information, following up with a clients email etc.
The secret here is passing the buck back. For as long as this email is in your inbox, it’s work for you to do at some point. Reply to it, get it out of the way and move on.
It’s amazing how many people wait a few days before responding to some of these, that you could’ve dealt with in 3 minutes, 5 days ago.
5. Stuff that needs to be followed up
These are similar to the emails above, but they usually require that you need to do something first. Something that might take some time.
Flag the email, make a note in your to do list and move on from this one. You’ll be coming back to it later. Namely in your next scheduled email time.
When it comes back round, if it’s either now in the “Delete” or “Deal with immediately” you do those things. Respond and move on. Sometimes something may need more time to follow up on, so you push it back to the next email window.
6. Interesting emails and how to deal with them
Sometimes your inbox might receive an interesting email. Something that you can’t follow up on straight away (because you’re working, or it needs you to be at home) like a good offer somewhere.
These emails you stick in a folder called “Interesting emails” and then whenever you have any spare time dealing with your emails, or at least once a week, you go through this folder, and decide which of the above 3 categories it goes in.
At that point you either:
- Deal with it and delete it
- Reply to it
- Or tag it for follow up
At this point it’s entered into your regular email cycle and should be dealt with as such.
Things to consider
So here are a couple of notes to bear in mind. Some things you may want to consider.
Close your email application and leave it closed
Seriously only open your email client, when you’re going to deal with your emails. Otherwise you’ll be constantly bombarded with your email notifications. Which kinda defeats the purpose of the objective.
If it’s really that important, they won’t have emailed you
Some people will say that they get important emails all the time during the day. This may be true. I’m not going to judge. System developers receiving email notifications for services going down etc.
The short story here is if it was that important, you wouldn’t have been emailed.
Everyone likes to say that their emails are important but that’s really not the case.
For instance. If your email needs my urgent attention, like right now, you should be calling to let me know about it. If you don’t it’ll be dealt with at my next email time. I am not a slave to my email inbox.
System developers who only receive emails for service outages? Are you kidding me. If it’s that important, your reporting system should be texting or calling you to let you know. If I’m away and a server goes down, I may not have access to my email. But it’s way more likely I’ll have access to my phone.
This isn’t gospel. Modify
This is a simple system. It may not work for you. You may need to keep emails for other reasons. Modify. Make it work for you. You know your requirements better than I do.
What works for me, may not work for you and vice versa. You need to figure out how to best make it work for you.
Email used to be the biggest most stressful pain for me. By treating it like a chore, doing it at defined times and setting myself some very very strict rules for it you take away a lot of the stress and anxiety that can come with email.
The important thing is making it work for you. Be sensible, but remember to be militant about it.