Managing Your Email Before It Manages You

How many emails do you receive in a day?

I honestly haven’t done any type of average for myself, but it looks like I received 184 today.

EmailWhether this seems like a lot or not many, it’s about 180 more emails than I would like to receive in a day.

The average person receives 100 to 150 emails a day, and spends about a quarter of his or her work day writing and processing email, according to the most consistent estimates I found.

I don’t know about you, but that’s too much time for me to spend on a process I dislike.

I wrote recently about knowing when email is the best form of communication and writing professional emails. It seems important now to discuss how we can manage our email before it manages us.

I should admit that I’m not an expert on this topic. I’m seriously bad about email. I’m equally bad about avoiding things I don’t enjoy. You understand where this is going, right?

My hope is that my reading on this subject might help us all become a little better at managing our email.

Limit inboxes

The first way to manage your email is to minimize the locations where you receive mail. I used to have three email addresses—one for work, one for school and one for personal stuff. I began about a year ago sending everything to one general address. I’ll admit, it was a little frightening at first. The amount of email I received seemed to triple overnight when it all started arriving in the same inbox. I proceeded with the next steps, which helped a lot.

Reduce your incoming email

There are many ways you can reduce the number of emails you receive without feeling like you’re missing information. Consider this advice:

 

  • Unsubscribe to newsletters. Most of what I read now goes directly to my RSS Feed Reader. I choose when to read it, instead of it deciding for me by arriving in my inbox.
  • Unsubscribe to unwanted items. You’re probably getting a lot of email from companies or organizations with which you no longer do business. Unsubscribing from these messages takes just a minute and will lessen your message stream. For example, I noticed I still was getting a lot of sale notices from stores where I bought my children clothes when they were younger. Because I no longer shop at those stores, I just took a few minutes to unsubscribe to them all. I haven’t lost a thing in doing so. Try using unroll.me to do this simply. It allows you to unenroll to a bulk of items and put everything else in one daily email digest.
  • Turn off notifications. You really don’t need an email each time you get a new follower on Twitter or someone messages you on Facebook. These messages just clog up your inbox and break up your workflow. Visit those sites on your own terms.
  • Use filters. I like to shop just as much as the next woman, and I love a good sale, but it’s not productive for me to shop all day every day. I filtered all of my store-related emails into one folder. I go there when I plan to buy something and am looking for a sale or am just in the mood for online window shopping. Filters are a great way to still get desired emails without having them go into your inbox.
  • Send fewer emails. Think about it… the fewer emails you send, the fewer responses you receive. Also, you’ll notice that coworkers, for example, are prone to bring up subjects they planned to email you about if you just walk down the hall for a chat.

Limit your email time

If you’re anything like me, you have one of those “smart” phones. This intelligent little device has a tag that tells you how many emails you’ve received. Said device is with you pretty much 24 hours a day, seven days a week. You check it… and check it… and check it. You probably also check email each time you see that little number tag. That handy smart phone is the reason limiting email time is one of the most difficult pieces of advice in this post. Below are points from productivity gurus on how to limit your email time. I must admit, I’ve not been successful at doing most of these for long, although I’ve tried them all.

  • Only check email at certain times of the day. One of the best ways to control email instead of vice versa is to limit the number of times you check it. Leo Babauta encourages readers of his book, The Power of Less (which I highly recommend reading), to check email twice a day. He checks his at 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., although he admits these times may not work for everyone. I tried this method for about a month after I read Leo’s book. I got a lot more done, but it was difficult to break the habit of regularly checking for messages. I also had a lot of people coming into my office to see if I had read their email.
  • Don’t check email first thing in the morning. This is another common productivity tip, which I read in Leo’s book and other places. Email really consists of people wanting you to answer questions or do things for them (This probably is why I don’t like it.). Therefore, checking it first thing in the morning means you’re allowing other people to dictate the flow of your day, instead of focusing on your most important tasks. Raise your hand if you grab your iPhone first thing in the morning and check email and social media. *Raises hand in shame.* I know. It happens, but the advice is strong.
  • Turn off email alerts. If you hear a ding or see a pop-up each time you receive an email, your workflow constantly will be compromised. This means every task will take you longer to complete and none of them are likely to have your full attention. Plus, the constant dinging of your email will annoy anyone around who can hear your computer. Do yourself a favor and turn it off.
  • Always process to zero. I was at inbox zero for a couple of minutes the other day. It was a fabulous feeling. I begged everyone I knew not to email me. It was all in vain. Having zero items in your inbox feels so good, but most of us use our inboxes for storage. Create a process for dealing with emails immediately after opening them (another thing that’s difficult to do from your phone). Choose to file and save, respond or assign a to do task to each message. Doing this immediately will help you keep a clear inbox, be more organized and eliminate the risks of delayed responses.
  • Send fewer emails. Here it is again! Perhaps the best way to limit the amount of time you spend on email is just to spend less time. The fewer emails you send, the less time you spend writing them. The fewer emails you send, the fewer you receive. This equates to less time reading, processing and responding. Plus, you may actually build relationships by talking with people instead of just emailing them. Talk about a winning situation!

Email is a necessary form of professional communication. It has made communication much more effective in many ways. But allowing email to manage us instead of managing it decreases our effectiveness and productivity. Not all of the advice listed above is feasible in every situation. We should all think about what works best for us and try to implement some change.

Let’s Talk Nerdy!

Do you manage your email or does it manage you? What email-related problems do you face? What advice do you have for those of us who want to manage email more effectively?

17 comments
JimMcCullen
JimMcCullen

I've stopped using folders to organized messages, all of my messages are stored in just two folders an Inbox Processed and Sent folder. I use categories and virtual search folders to organize all of my messages. This greatly reduces the time it takes to maintain my email system. You can learn more about these oncepts at www.controlyourday.net. I published a book on amazon that explains  my Control Your Day system and provides step by step instructions to set it up. The book is free through February 16th on Amazon.com and is the #5 ranked free book in the Business/Investing category on Amazon.

patricksplace
patricksplace

If you ask ME, I manage my inbox fairly well. If you ask a dear friend of mine who hates to see anyone with more than five emails in his inbox, it manages me. :) 

I have shaved my main Gmail inbox by thousands. (Yes, I said thousands.) I still have about 4,000 emails in there, dating back for years. Most of those are either personal exchanges I want to keep or older emails I really no longer need but just haven't gotten to, yet. Considering that I started with about 13,000, I've definitely made progress.

Unfortunately, Gmail makes it so easy to allow your inbox to double as a searchable storage archive that I've just allowed that to happen. Like the guy with the messy desk, I know exactly where everything is, even if no one else does. But at least I'm making progress. (And I'm definitely using some of your tips...the "filter" option is one that has been the single biggest help in clearing things out: I can create a filter to capture emails I know I no longer want, then just delete everything that falls into that particular filter with a couple of clicks!) 

Latest blog post: Sunday Seven #380

danielmrose
danielmrose

Gmail is really helpful with its "priority inbox". I am crazy about making sure that it is accurate. It really helps to keep focused on important emails and then deal with unimportant ones later.

dadofdivas
dadofdivas

I have been unsubscribing left and right lately to try and balance my emails as it seems that if I am not in my office all the time, even when I do reduce the overall numbers, when I come back the number just jumps exponentially again!

ThinDifference
ThinDifference

Interesting points. I spent two weeks unsubscribing from various emails, and it made no difference in the quantity or quality of the email I receive. I believe setting up filters may be the only approach to deal with email effectively. I also wholeheartedly agree that we need to send less, too. We need to set the example and get out of our chair and go talk to someone instead! It is a better way to build relationships and get work done. Thanks!

danielalex_book
danielalex_book

Some good tips in there.

I turned off updates, unsubscribed to newsletters etc.

It definitely helped!

profkrg
profkrg moderator

@patricksplace The most important thing is that your approach works for you. Perhaps you could move all of those emails you'd like to search to a "save" folder, allowing you to just see what you need to process? Again, what matters most is that it works for you.

Thanks for reading and commenting!

Kenna

Latest blog post: Look! Media Internships!

profkrg
profkrg moderator

@danielmrose I'm not sure if I use that feature. I guess I would know if I did. How does it help you?

profkrg
profkrg moderator

@dadofdivas I just found out about a new product that I think will help you. It's called Unroll.me. You can find it at www.unroll.me. You can unenroll to your subscriptions all at once. You can also have it bundle all of your subscriptions into one daily digest email. Check it out! I hope it helps.

Latest blog post: Look! Media Internships!

profkrg
profkrg moderator

@dadofdivas It certainly does seem like the multiply. Good luck!

Thanks for reading and commenting!

Kenna

profkrg
profkrg moderator

@ThinDifference Ugh. I'm sorry that unsubscribing didn't work for you. There is another option— Apple+A and Delete. Although that one might make you unpopular. I just can't help but think that we could get a lot of work done if we weren't so busy talking about work. 

Best of luck!

Kenna

profkrg
profkrg moderator

@danielalex_book I'm glad you're seeing success. The checking email twice a day advice really did help, but it's difficult to do and certainly won't work in every professional situation.

Thanks for reading and commenting!

Kenna

patricksplace
patricksplace

@profkrg I keep hearing that there's an easy way to set up an "archive" folder, but just haven't stumbled across it, yet. But now I'm down to less than 3,000 emails...so I've trimmed my inbox by 80%! :) 

Latest blog post: Sunday Seven #380

danielmrose
danielmrose

@profkrg It helps in a couple of ways. First, on my mobile device in the Gmail app I set the default inbox as my priority inbox. This means I get notifications of emails from people I deem important. Second, it provides a simple way to filter out newsletters, etc...that I want to read, but want to read on my own time. 

Trackbacks

  1. [...] writer by the name of Keena Griffin touched on the topic in an online post a few weeks ago. She offered a few suggestions for “Managing Your Email Before It Manages You” [...]