How Not To Get Buried By Your Email Inbox
While email was originally seen as a watershed invention devised to improve the speed of communication, in recent years, it's become an anxiety inducing burden that can add hours to your work day. If you're searching for ways not to get buried by your inbox, you're not the only one. Email fatigue is real, and after spending hours answering work emails, the last thing you probably want to do is hop over to your personal inbox. Enough already.
When email first came on the scene, hearing the ding of a new message was exciting. Now, hearing an email arrive in your inbox can be akin to nails on a chalkboard. I'll be the first to admit it: I hate email. People who know me well are aware that email is the least likely way to reach me because I scan for work emails and urgent messages, and ignore the rest.
According to an email statistics report from The Radicati Group, Inc., the average person sends and receives 122 emails during the work day. Another survey reports that American workers spend more than six hours a day on email. That leaves just two hours to complete other work, and since your job likely entails more than just checking email, you're probably working more than you should to get it all done.
Unfortunately, email is here to stay, so developing strategies to help you not feel overwhelmed by your overflowing inbox is important; they can even reduce the amount of time you spend on email. Amy Sandler, corporate mindfulness trainer and founder of Thunderheart Leadership advises treating your work day a little differently than you're used to, and even turning to mindfulness meditation to manage email fatigue.
"We wouldn’t show up at a meeting without an agenda or launch a new business without a plan, so why not do that with your day?" she tells Bustle. "I look at everything from the question — what’s my intention? If my intention is to feel less overwhelmed by email — and likely, less overwhelmed in life — then I check in with myself and ask, where am I putting my energy and focus?"
So, what's your plan to beat email fatigue? Here are seven mindful ways to help you not get buried by your inbox.
1. Set Aside Designated Times To Answer Emails
Do you ever feel like you have so many things to do that you're not getting any of them done? While it may seem like a good idea to switch back and forth between checking your email and doing your other work, it actually might be making you less productive. The Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology published a study that claims multitasking is a scientific impossibility, and trying to do two things at once just makes you do them both poorly.
"I used to look at my email first thing in the morning. Not only am I giving away my freshest hours of brain power to low-priority tasks, I am letting something outside of myself drive my day. Someone else’s agenda becomes my agenda; and I feel like I’m giving my power away," Sandler tells Bustle. "Now, instead of grabbing for the phone right when I wake up, I take the first few minutes every morning to ask myself, how do I want to show up today — maybe more patient, less stressed, more creative, whatever it might be."
Instead of trying to check email and do the rest of your work at the same time, set designated times during the day to respond to and send emails. For example an hour after you arrive at work and an hour before you leave. Let your team know that this is the time you have set aside to check email, and if they need to reach you during other times they can call, text, Skype, etc. Having specific times to check your email each day can free up the other six hours of your work day for everything else.
2. Turn Off Your Notifications
There is nothing more distracting than seeing emails come in across the bottom of your computer screen, or on your phone. According to a study by Loughborough University, it takes an average of 64 seconds to fully recover from being interrupted by an email. Save yourself the stress, and lost time, by turning off your email notifications.
Additionally, if you have email on your phone move it off your home screen, and put it in a folder so you don't have to see the number growing each time you glance at your phone.
3. Sort and Prioritize Your Inbox
When you first check your inbox in the morning, scan for things you can instantly delete because reducing the sheer number of emails feels empowering, and it's good to start the day with a win.
Second, flag the items that require you to perform some sort of action, or require a response, and respond to anything urgent first. Third, move all of the emails that are simply FYIs (that is, messages that are purely informative and do not require you to respond or do anything) to an FYI folder.
Sorting and prioritizing email will help you see what you actually need to focus on during your designated email time, and in turn will help you feel less overwhelmed.
4. Compose Now, Send Later
There is nothing worse than getting a work email in the middle of the night. Even if you're not checking your email then, seeing that someone is working at that hour and sending you emails can feel overwhelming, and it doesn't let you fully unplug from work. It also gives the impression that the person sending the email is always working, and could result in others emailing that person 24/7. Don't be one of these people.
This has become such an issue that France introduced a labor reform bill that actually made it illegal to email employees outside of designated business hours. If you find yourself needing to compose emails at odd times for whatever reason, schedule them to be sent during designated working hours.
Additionally, if you are buried under a mountain of work, spend your morning email time composing emails for non-urgent matters, and then schedule them to be sent later in the work day so you're not bombarded with responses you don't have time to address during your afternoon email time.
5. Set Up An Auto Reply
If you know you're not going to be able to get to your email in a timely manner, relieve the pressure by setting up an automatic response. Chief Executive Tom Patterson wrote in an article for Entrepreneur: "The time I spent tending to my inbox was distracting me from time I could spend actively participating in my day-to-day business. By staying off email, I realized, I could encourage the team to be problem-solvers, and to efficiently delegate their workload — rather than wait for my input."
He suggests setting an automatic email response that says, “I am currently checking email before 9 a.m. and after 5 p.m. EST so there will be a delayed response. If this is urgent please call or text.”
This does three things: It lets the sender know that you have received their email; it suggests an alternate way to contact you if the matter is urgent; and it stops the same people from emailing you again, and empowers them to make their own decisions.
6. Use A Online Tool To Unsubscribe
This one is a tip for managing your personal inbox: It's likely that the majority of emails you receive in your personal account are ones you don't really care about. When you order something online, you often get added to that company's email list. As a someone who does most of her shopping online, I get a ton of these unwanted emails.
If you don't have time to go in and manually unsubscribe to each company (and let's face, who has this kind of time?) there are tools available to unsubscribe from unwanted emails for you.
These programs scan your email, compile a list of your subscriptions, allow you to select the ones you want to keep, and get rid of the rest in one fell swoop.
7. Send Less Email
If you want to receive less email, try leading by example. While your first inclination is often to fire off an email to someone, many times you can get the same result with an in-person conversation, or if you work remotely by pinging someone on Skype, text, or Google Hangouts, or by calling them on that throwback relic we call a telephone (gulp).
Sometimes you want to have a written record of a conversation, but if that's not necessary consider whether or not you really need to send that email. You can also check out this life hack from Lauren Graham that will help you spend less time working while increasing your productivity.
While email is definitely a burden, it doesn't have to rule your life.