7 strategies to keep email from ruining your life

Few things can derail a day faster than email. One message with an urgent request can undo the best laid plans. It doesn’t take a big request to distract you for a day as email can be death by a thousand cuts. The distraction of email can slice your day up to such a degree that you barely get more than a few minutes to focus on one activity before an email interrupts you. However, there are steps you can take to keep email from ruining your life. In today’s post, I will share 7 steps that you can easily implement to get your email under control.

keep email from ruining your life

Photo credit: Sean MacEntee

Unfortunately, too often email runs our lives. We work out of our inbox and rarely close our email program during the day.

I want to suggest that there are ways to take control and keep email from ruining your life.  Many of these I frequently use and found it has dramatically helped me manage my email inbox.

7 strategies to keep email from ruining your life

1.  Check your email less

Just because someone wants to get in touch with me doesn’t mean that they get to interrupt me immediately. If I stopped what I was working on to answer an email the minute it arrives, I’ve essentially said I’m not working on anything important so just go ahead and interrupt me. However, we all know people that are horribly unreliable with email and I’m not suggesting this extreme either. Instead, I want to propose a compromise: check your email 3 times a day. Personally, I tend to check mine morning, midday, and late afternoon. This allows me to keep on top of my email, respond to urgent messages, yet keep email from dominating my entire day. With some focus, I can usually knock out most messages in about 30 minutes if I check 3 times each day (I rarely spend more than an hour).

2.  Send less email

I used to send hundreds of messages a day.  Finally, I stopped and ask myself why. There was no good reason. I was emailing when I should just have a conversation with someone. I was emailing quick one line responses. It was ridiculous. I now intentionally try to send less email and I’ve cut the number of messages I receive dramatically.

3.  Delay sending messages.

One way to send (and receive) fewer emails is to delay sending messages. Various email programs have different options for this, but I rarely immediately respond to a message. Instead, I will set it to send in a few hours or for students I set it to send the next day. My goal is to train anyone who emails with me to not get an immediate response. I find this particularly helpful with students as I train them to not expect instantaneous responses which I suspect also reduces how much email they send me.

4.  Unsubscribe from lists

I don’t know how it is possible that I end up on so many email lists. I swear half of them I don’t know how I got on them. I used to just hit delete but then a few days later there’s another message. Now, I’m quite liberal in using the unsubscribe function. If I don’t read a list message a couple of times in a row, I get off the list. I can always rejoin, but I never do. An extra message in the inbox just isn’t worth it!

5.  Don’t use your email as a to do list

I don’t care if you use a paper to do list or electronic software. Whatever you do, don’t use your email as a to do list. I know lots of people that leave messages in their inbox because the message contains something that they need to do. Please, I beg you, don’t do this. Not only does this clutter up your inbox and causes stress every time you check your email, but it also keeps you from properly prioritizing your work. Any action items that come in by email should be put on your regular to do list and prioritized appropriately.

6.  Snooze messages

One of my favorite email features is snooze. There are times when a message doesn’t really have an action item, but I need to respond with information from a later date. Rather than leaving the email in my inbox cluttering up everything, I can snooze the message until a particularly day/time. This allows me to process the message and forget about it until a later date when I can properly respond.

7.  Practice Inbox Zero

The basic philosophy behind Inbox Zero is that at the end of the day you process all email out of your inbox by responding, deleting, or filing away. Email is painful enough to deal with as it is—don’t make it harder by having thousands of messages in your inbox. A clean inbox helps you quickly process new messages and then get back to the important work that you were actually hired to do (and why you went into your field in the first place).

Manage your email, don’t let it manage you

Email can be a powerful tool to help communicate quickly and easily, but it also has the potential to keep you away from your highest priorities. However, with effective strategies, you can keep email from ruining your life. Whether at the end of a day or the end of a career, I promise you will never look back and think, “Gosh, I wish I had done more email.” Take control and get back to making your highest contribution!