We’re here today to talk about a dear friend. A friend we love to hate. A friend we thought would bring efficiency and ease into our lives. A friend we are reminded of all the time. And yet we often feel like this friend makes us feel overwhelmed and unorganized. A friend we thought would be helpful, but sometimes is a pest.
This friend is email.
Here’s the thing – email doesn’t have to control you or your day. It doesn’t have to be the weight on your shoulders or the thing that keeps you up at night. It doesn’t have to be a distraction.
It’s time to turn the tables, folks. It’s time for you to be back in control.
In order to be in control, we must get to the root of the actual problem, because the real problem isn’t “email”. A part of the problem is deleting or removing those emails from the inbox folder. We’re scared to do it. We feel we may be overcome with anxiety if we press delete. Well, we’re a bunch of hoarders if we think we need that email from four months ago we were cc’d on “just in case” or the newsletter with that article we want to read one of these days. We’re so attached to emails that it’s hard for us to say goodbye. But I promise you there is a way and you will survive.
The five-minute rule
If you can answer and then delete (gasp!) an email in five minutes, do it. Don’t procrastinate – just do it. Some people say it’s the “two-minute rule”, but can you really answer a question thoughtfully in two minutes? I’m not sure. Five minutes is a nice compromise.
These emails may include:
- FYI emails
Hm. After it’s read, delete if you don’t need it or file away if you need to keep a copy.
- Reminder emails
Make a note on your to-do list if needed, then delete or file.
- Newsletter emails
If a 1-2 weeks go by and you haven’t read that darn newsletter yet, delete it. Or you can skim and pick out a few things to read quickly. Then its #byefelicia. (I’m so guilty of this one)
- Meeting invites
Accept or decline. Done and Done.
- Emails pending a response
Add a reminder on your to-do list about the task and then, file.
Emails that take longer than five minutes
These bad boys need more attention and should really be the only emails that are kept in your inbox for more than a day.
These emails may be from someone sending you a document for review or approval, etc. Put this task on your to-do list and schedule time in your calendar to get it done. Then you have to make it happen.
Block 30-minutes a day
You may need more, you may need less, but blocking off 30-minutes at the end of the day to go through unanswered emails will help keep your inbox (and your mind) from being cluttered.
The three-day rule
Unless you are ignoring someone, it is rare that an email should go unanswered for more than three days. Quite frankly, even three days can be too long.
Skim through your emails a few times a day to make sure you’re answering questions in a timely manner and keeping projects moving. If you’re just too busy and know you’re not going to be able to provide a thoughtful answer or tackle a task in that time, send a quick response keeping that person informed. It will put your mind and their mind at ease.
Email is continuous, so your inbox is going to need your attention pretty often. If you fall off track for a couple of days because you’re focusing on a project or binge watching all of the reality TV you missed, spare some time and give your inbox some TLC. Because at the end of the day, staying in control of your email is not only good for your sanity, but it helps you manage and build good relationships with colleagues and peers, demonstrates your ability to keep projects moving and is generally a good professional skill to have.
The most important thing to do is find a system that works for you.
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