3 Tips for Handling Email Overwhelm
What did you do when you read the title of this post?
Did you roll your eyes but click on the post anyway? It may seem impossible to decrease how overwhelmed you feel by the many emails flying into your in box. In this digital age, most people accept it as a way of life. But does it have to be? I don't think so.
Constantly checking email was stressing me out. About the time I got engrossed in a task, a message would come in and interrupt my flow. I knew I had to do something. Here are the three steps I've taken to help manage email:
#1: Check email at scheduled intervals only
I can imagine you saying, 'That's impossible!' ( I know a number of skeptics clients have...) But it works. Once you let coworkers and clients know your routine, they'll adjust. I promise the world will not come to an end!
Reading emails as they come in not only adds stress, but it decreases your productivity. Studies show that, when you interrupt a task and come back to it, it takes 20 minutes or more to get fully engaged in that activity again.
So, read your emails in batches at specific times of day (e.g., hourly, three times a day). And turn off your email notifications (audio and written). Doing that immediately eased some of my anxiety.
You’re probably thinking, “what if I miss something urgent?” I’ve found it’s rare that something can’t wait an hour or two. Once you let your coworkers and clients know when you plan to check email each day, they'll adapt. They'll either wait for your response or call you if they need a quick response.
#2: Create an email handling system
I read emails and handle as many as possible immediately (with the goal being to read each only once). That way, my Inbox is relatively clear, and I don’t feel stressed every time I go there. I use the “4 Ds”:
Do—If an email requires a response and I can do it in a minute or two, I respond. Then, I either delete the email or move it to a folder if I will need to reference it again.
Delay—if I need to take action, and it will take more than a few minutes, I leave it in my Inbox and consider it part of my “to do” list. Or if the email contains information that I truly think I will use later, I file it in my Reference folder.
Delegate—If the email requires action from someone else, I forward the message to him/her right away. (Again, either deleting the email or moving it to a folder.)
Delete—If an email does not have to be acted upon or saved, I get rid of it right away.
Create folders that make sense for the way you work. Much of my work is directly related to a client or a project, so I have folders for each of those. I also have folders labeled Personal, General Coaching, Reference, etc. You might want to create a folder called To Do rather than leaving an item in your Inbox.
#3: Unsubscribe from as many emails as possible
If you’re like I was, you’re probably on a lot of email distribution lists. How many of those emails do you really read? Which are truly valuable to you, and which can you eliminate? I unsubscribed from all but the most useful, and it was so freeing!
Try these tips and let me know how they work for you!