To do better, deeper thinking, and get more meaningful work done, we need to eliminate distractions.
And one of the biggest daily distractions for all of us is email.
According to a report by Radicati, the average worker in the United States receives 126 emails per day.
Just the other weekend my wife was complaining about needing to whittle her inbox down from the 500+ emails that she had yet to process.
You may or may not deal with email at an extreme level like that, but I am 100% certain that you deal with it on some level. (I mean, you're reading this email, aren't you?)
We all do.
Email is a necessary, unavoidable tool in modern society. It provides many benefits, but it also can be a major source of distraction and even anxiety.
So how do we manage it better?
Let's start with a few tips from author Nir Eyal, who wrote the book Indistractable. This book contains an entire section on dealing with external triggers, with email being one of the most prominent of these triggers.
Nir begins the section with quite a statement:
"Email is the curse of the modern worker."
He acknowledges, as I did above, that email is necessary and can be a tool for meaningful communication. But he also stresses that a lot of time is wasted in our inboxes because we all just send too many emails.
Here are a few tips he provides for getting email under control:
#1: Keep this equation in mind: T = n x t.
(T) is the total time spent processing emails each day. (n) is the number of messages receives while (t) is the time spent on each message.
Thus, to reduce the overall time spent on email, we need to address both variables in the equation: the number of messages we receive and the amount of time we spend processing each message.
#2: To receive fewer emails, you must send fewer emails.
Keep in mind that most people feel a natural pressure to respond to every email they get. This means that if you send an email, someone is likely to reply to it, and then you will have to spend time processing that reply.
Taking a quick moment to ask yourself, "Do I really need to send this email?" is one way to start reducing the volume in your inbox (and others').
#3: Consider setting up some type of "office hours"
This may or may not be possible in your particular situation, but it's worth exploring if it could be.
Setting aside time for people to ask you questions in person (or over the phone or video conference) not only allows you to address questions directly instead of through email, but it also is likely to eliminate some questions altogether.
It's very easy for someone to just fire off an email when they think of something to ask you. If they instead have to wait for your "office hours," they may find an answer in the meantime or deem the question not important enough to make the effort. Either way, it's a win for you (and them).
#4: Don't forget about the Unsubscribe button
If you are getting email newsletters or shopping emails or any other type of regular email that you are no longer interested in, find the the Unsubscribe button and stop it from hitting your inbox altogether.
Sure, you can delete or archive these emails with the click of a button, but that still requires time and effort, which adds up over time. Better to just remove it from your inbox altogether.
#5: Only touch each email twice.
If an email is truly urgent, then respond to it right away. If an email is junk or doesn't warrant a response from you, delete it or archive it.
But if an email does require a response from you but isn't urgent, then tag it as "Today" or "This Week" or with some other time-based notation so that you can easily go back and handle it at the appropriate time -- without hijacking more of your attention than necessary right now.
Also consider blocking out set times when you do your initial email processing and then your reprocessing of timely messages. This way you can focus on email and be efficient, rather than constantly bouncing back and forth between email and other tasks.
I found the chapter on email from Indistractable to be quite insightful, and I hope at least one of these tips helps you to feel more in control of how you handle your inbox.
Because the less time you spend in your inbox, the more time you can spend engaging with your thoughts and ideas.
And better thinking leads to better outcomes and a better life.
Below, you will find three links to other resources that will give you different perspectives on how to tame the inbox beast.
But first a quick update from inside the THINKERS Workshop.
One of the main features of the THINKERS Workshop is our series of mini courses that feature short videos explaining key concepts for better thinking.
This week, I want to highlight a particular mini course because it fits with the overall theme of this week's THINKERS Roundup -- which is building habits for better thinking.
The mini course is called How to Create Habits for Better Thinking.
There are currently three video lessons in it, with more on the way. Here are direct links to the lessons:
- The Power of Emotional Circuit Breakers (And Why You Need to Use Them)
- The Most Powerful Way to Deal with a Stressful Moment
- Why Better Thinking Starts With Pen and Paper
If you are already a member of the THINKERS Workshop, you can access those video lessons at any time. And if you have questions or ideas for follow-up lessons, please leave a comment on the lesson itself (or reply to this email).
Also, we need your help!
We are always looking to improve the THINKERS Workshop to make it more useful to you. So we created a short survey to get your feedback. Click here to take the survey.
And ... for all the iPhone users out there, we have a new version of the THINKERS App ready for testing! If you want to be a beta tester, install the app TestFlight and then click this link. (Instructions here.)
Remember: The THINKERS Workshop costs $99 per year to be a member. If you own a THINKERS Notebook, you get full access for free. (If you own a notebook but haven't activated your free access yet, reply to this email and let me know. We'll get you set up.)
Now on to this week's links ...
The four D's of successful email management
Despite all the current technology and software tools available, many people are falling further behind with each passing day. They just can’t seem to keep up with the avalanche of digital messages hitting their inbox.
But it is really possible to get caught up on your email and stay caught up?
I’ve done so for years, even as the demands of my career have increased. I’m not bragging; it’s just a fact.
But I should warn you: there is no easy fix. Taking control of your inbox means changing your behavior. You must be willing to make the investment.
When you are not on top of your email, you feel out of control. Becoming an email ninja is therefore an essential survival skill. But in my opinion, making the investment is well-worth the effort.
Read: Yes, You Can Stay on Top of E-mail (Michael Hyatt)
Start thinking in terms of deadlines
The biggest mistake, in my experience, is creating folders based on topics. Emails, like meetings, rarely stay on track.
My newly streamlined, uncluttered inbox has a grand total of five folders.
Where do you file an important update that covers two unrelated projects? What do you do with that same email if it requires a response?
The second mistake I’ve seen, and personally committed, is trying to use an inbox as a to-do list. There simply aren’t enough hours in the workday to respond to the emails that pile up there. Over time, precisely because of the way I was “organizing” my inbox, emails that I should’ve responded to got pushed further and further down, and were eventually forgotten.
The system that saved my sanity requires only five folders.
Read: The Only Five Email Folders Your Inbox Will Ever Need (Fast Company)
Email is like ... dental hygiene?
It only takes a few simple tricks to get more efficient at dealing with email so you don't feel weighed down by it. Some of these tips rely on functions found in most email programs, but others are ways of changing your own habits so that the little everyday interactions you have with email help you keep on track with managing it.
Think about it like cleaning your teeth. There's a difference between daily dental hygiene and going to a dentist, but you have to do both. You should brush twice a day and floss once a day, and those habits are extremely important to having healthy teeth. Every six months, you should also visit a dentist for a more thorough cleaning, x-rays, and other preventative care. Daily hygiene prevents larger problems from building up. Visits to the dentist help you catch and correct burgeoning problems before they get out of control.
Read: 11 Tips for Managing Email More Efficiently (Jill Duffy)
Quote of the week
"Email is a system that delivers other people's priorities to your attention. It's up to you to decide when that priority should be managed into your world. It's not the other way around."
-- Chris Brogan