I rarely ever end the day having cleared my inbox. It’s not something I do intentionally mind you. Being the type A personality that I am, that lurking reminder on my dashboard at the end of the day kindly informing me of the 300-odd emails I’m yet to read gives me more anxiety than I’m prepared to admit. Each unread message represents another demand on my time (which, like you, I don’t have much of) and another decision I need to make. And, let’s face it, getting into a full-blown email session can feel like embarking on a game of Whack-A-Mole. You know, you tackle one and more pop up.
My poor email management is actually because I’m a stickler for hitting deadlines. Sometimes, this means I forget to eat, move, go to the toilet or do any of those other normal activities people do. Oh, and come 6pm, my hands are usually on fire, due to speed typing all day and my ability to focus on anything other than the episode of Scandal I’ve downloaded on my phone for the train journey home is near on zero.
The ability to fire off responses moments after a message has come through is now seen as a mark of dedication and efficiency, or at least, some people seem to think it is. And while it’s easy to dismiss the pressure altogether, not everyone works in a job or industry where they have the freedom to take a step back from emails and actually, well, get shit done. It can easily feel like a job in itself and if it results in you finding yourself staying late every night or constantly unable to fit your workload into your day, then it’s less something to aspire to and more something to keep an eye on.
As with everything, the trick is to find a balance – not all of us can take an extended hiatus from checking emails but what we can do is start getting smarter about the way we handle the constant pinging and distractions. Here are some tips and tricks we’re using here at TLE HQ to help get you started…
SET CLEAR TIMES: When you’re getting constant notifications of new messages coming in, it’s easy to get distracted. So before you do anything, simply deactivate emails notifications. Next, allocate designated times work through your emails. The idea is that by doing this, you’re not constantly distracted by emails that can likely wait until later, abandoning the task that actually needs to get done. It’s no secret that when you’re focusing on one thing rather than fending off distractions, you’re exponentially more productive. When you do sit down to check your emails, you’ll feel ready to fully commit to reducing the load and sending well thought-out responses. Some people only check emails at the start or end of each day but we’d recommend allocating set periods of time in the morning, mid-day and late afternoon. Countless studies have proved that limiting email-checking to allocated times like this improves well-being and will transform the way you feel about your workload.
GET ORGANISED AND UNSUBSCRIBE: When I get around to going through my inbox, almost a third of them are emails I can delete so once you’ve decided your email checking windows, make a point to go through your inbox and do a quick audit. Get rid of blanket emails and mail outs that you don’t need to respond to and click unsubscribe on anything that regularly lands in your inbox that you never open or read. There’s nothing better than opening your email and not seeing deals for that takeout place you once ordered from after a boozy night out. Nobody needs to wake up to that every day.
CREATE A SYSTEM: Once you’ve whittled your inbox down to the emails you actually need to respond to, create a hierarchy. I use different coloured flags to separate urgent emails, messages that require a considered response and emails I can fire off quickly but aren’t necessarily important or pressing. It might sound like a lot of effort, but I promise it’ll help you prioritise. Boomerang is worth adding to your email checking system too. In a nutshell, it’s a free-plug-in for Firefox and Chrome with Gmail that allows you to do things like schedule an email to send in the future, bring an email back to your inbox at a certain time (like your flight itinerary the day before your trip) or return an email back to you if you have not received a reply after a certain number of days. It’s a good way to stay organised without having to email yourself reminders to follow up on things.
SWITCH OFF: It’s worth leaving the office that little bit later on a Friday to make sure you can completely switch off from emails over the weekend. More often than not, even where it’s marked ‘urgent’, the likelihood is that it can wait until Monday morning. I’m often that douche bag scrolling through emails the moment a friend gets up for the toilet over brunch on the weekend and lets face it, nobody wants to be friends with that girl so make a concerted effort to be present and in the moment when you’re off-duty. At least when people are watching. Baby steps, guys, baby steps…