The first step in getting past email overwhelm is to clearly define who the boss is in this relationship: you or your email. That might sound like a silly question, but ask yourself if:
- Your email client is set to automatically check for new messages every few minutes.
- You read your email on multiple devices -- computer, smartphone, iPad, etc.
- You feel a compulsive need to see who is sending you email as soon as you hear the sound that indicates a new message has arrived.
Begin by setting a schedule for checking and responding to your email. That might mean 30 minutes in the morning, 30 minutes at noon, and 30 minutes at the end of the work day. Choosing specific times to check your email isn't as important as making an effort to not allow email to remain the time thief it currently is. You set the schedule. That's the first and most important step.
When you begin to follow this schedule consistently, you train customers and friends who have come to expect an immediate response to realize that even though you don't respond instantly anymore, you will respond... but on your schedule.
The urgent messages will still find you. You can let your important clients know about your schedule and that they can still call you if there's something that truly can't wait. Also consider setting up folders and rules. Use your email client to automatically sort your email into folders based on the subject or sender, then when it's time to check your mail, you will easily be able to find the most important messages first.
Getting past email overwhelm isn't hard, but it does require conscious decisions and actions on your part. The first step is to simply decide to take control over your inbox.
The next step is to create a system to control the incoming daily emails. Make four folders and label them "to read," "to do," "to answer," and "maybe." File your emails accordingly. Your goal is to leave your inbox with zero messages by the end of each day. Now, during your allotted email time, you can first respond to any new and urgent emails and then file the rest. In the time you have left, you can begin working your way through the folders.
When it comes to taming the email inbox, there are three points to keep in mind:
- Be the boss -- don't let email have control over your life.
- Use email the way it was intended -- and use other tools to handle the jobs email isn't very good at.
- Keep your inbox clean -- as with your office desk, clutter accumulates, so do your best to keep up with it.
Start mastering these simple concepts, and you'll be well on your way to getting rid of email overwhelm for good.