Email. I love it. I hate it. All day long, I used to hear that “ding” telling me that new mail has arrived. I have a laptop, a smartphone and a tablet. Wherever I go, I used to get numerous audible or vibration notifications that new email has arrived. I was too connected. Most people are. That near-constant “ding” and frequent vibration had become distractions that were preventing me from focusing on the tasks at hand and accomplishing what needed to be accomplished. Even worse, these audible reminders would rudely come during appointments and conversations!
Maybe you only have one connected device, but you know the email quagmire too well. You have many new, unread, emails in your Inbox, and perhaps thousands you’ve already read. My goal is to keep my email Inbox completely empty (Inbox Zero), and that frees me from the weight of email distraction. Here’s how to do it.
Control Your Email
First, make a commitment to control your email habits. Do not allow your email to control you. I only check my email three times a day on work days:
- First thing in the morning, when I am doing my daily review
- Just before lunch break
- About 30 minutes before I leave the office
These three times give me ample opportunities to decide how I will respond to each email in a timely manner. The only exception is when I am expecting an urgent or extremely important email. Then I might check the Sender and Subject more frequently. Regardless of the urge, do not open that email app, except when you decide. You might need to check your email more or less frequently, depending on your business or occupation. You decide. You’re in control.
Don’t Waste Time With Any Email
Second, don’t waste time with any email. I make quick decisions about email, just like I make with any other incoming potential action:
- Is this email from a mailing list that I am subscribed to?
- If no, keep going.
- If yes, consider unsubscribing from the list. These emails are huge distractions and usually try to tempt you into purchasing something. If you have subscribed to a writer or leader you can learn from, then keep the subscription, but set up “rules” to put the email where it belongs and not in your Inbox.
- Does this email require action? If yes, then
- Do it now, unless it will take you longer than a few minutes. Then archive the email.
- If it can’t be done in less than a few minutes, then put it on your schedule, delegate the task to someone else, or defer it to an appropriate time. Then archive the email.
- If the email does NOT require action, then
- Is it important or reference material? Then file it away (I’ll address this in another article) and archive the email.
- Is it something to consider or do someday? Then file it in your Maybe/Someday Actions and archive the email.
- If it’s neither of the first two, archive the email.
I have my email apps set up in such as way that they do not annoy or distract me. I have the audible notification — the “ding” — turned off. On my smartphone, I have the notifications turned off. The only notifier I use is the numerical “badge” that indicates how many new messages I have. Right now, I can see that I have four new messages, but it’s not time to look at them. It’s time for doing something else. Remember, you am in charge of my email, the email app is not allowed to tell me when to check or read.
Resist the temptation that email is urgent. Unless your business depends on the urgency of email, your email is almost never urgent. Things that require urgency almost always happen through a personal conversation or a phone call. Focus on getting your daily tasks done. Avoid that email trap. And remember, you are the only one who controls they way you use email.
One last thing: Don’t use the “delete” feature, unless the email is some trashy junk mail. Use the “archive” feature. Depending on which email service you are using, the “archive” feature takes the email out of your Inbox and holds it in an email folder, usually called “Archive”. If I need to refer to an older email, it’s there. Every six months or so, I delete all the emails in the Archive Folder that are older than a few weeks.