By Fauzia Burke, author of “Online Marketing for Busy Authors“
Forget the time you’ve lost on Facebook, email can take over your life and become a true time sink. It’s easy to get inundated with emails and then feel overwhelmed when our inbox keeps populating faster than we can hit delete. I recently heard someone say they have 4,000 email messages in their in-box. What can you do when you are getting emails faster than you can take care of them?
That was my dilemma when I decided something had to change. I started keeping track of the amount of time I was spending with email, and the results were shocking. I realized I was spending majority of my day just responding to emails, which is not my job. Email is just a tool to do my job. I immediately made a promise to myself to end every day with zero emails in my inbox. With 200-300 emails a day, I thought it was an impossible goal, but as I set out to conquer my email inbox, I quickly got more efficient and felt more in charge of my day.
Here’s what I’ve learned from freeing myself from my email overload:
Don’t work from your inbox.
While it can be easy – almost addictive – to get drawn into working from your inbox, I realized it’s counterproductive. I like to organize my day the night before so I can identify top priorities and know exactly where I should be spending my time each day. Having a system to direct your day (whether that’s a to-do list in a day planner or using your iPhone) can help prevent using your email to direct your day. If your email becomes your go-to place to start your day you can lose tons of time answering emails as they come in instead of working on your highest priorities. I like to have designated times to check my email.
Take some time to unsubscribe to any email newsletters you receive that you don’t love. If there are emails from particular places or people that you delete all the time, just go ahead and take an extra minute to unsubscribe. Less email coming in is an easy fix to manage your inbox.
Turn off automatic notifications.
Who doesn’t like to get email? Like snail mail, there are a lot of emails that are exciting to receive. That said, the email notification pop-ups are distracting and interrupt your work flow. You might be surprised at how much time you lose if you continually pop over to your email, even if you tell yourself it’s only for a few seconds. Plus, it’s usually taking you away from what you are supposed to be working on at that moment. Studies now tell us that we can’t effectively multi-task because our brains just don’t work that way. Let yourself focus by turning off your email notification.
Every email is not important.
I used to think all of my emails were important, but they aren’t. Every client is important. Many of my emails are just disruptive. I finally made a choice not to let other people set the agenda for my day. Every email usually pulls me in a different direction, but it’s my job to prioritize and value my time. Set specific times to check email and only respond to the important emails that are aligned with your priorities.
Close down your email.
I usually turn my mail program off while I am writing or working on a report or coming up with promotional ideas for my clients. Every few hours I take a look at my inbox, delete the many FYI emails, and file the ones that are important to save.
Create an action list and delete emails as you go.
Once my inbox is cleaned up, I assess the emails that need some reply or action. If I can reply quickly, I do and delete the email. If it needs action, I decide what needs to happen and transfer that action item to my calendar. To my calendar I will add “send proposal to Jeff for the web publicity campaign for his book.” This way I can use my email time to identify the things that are most important and prioritize them in my calendar. If I don’t get something done, I just move it to the next day. But I know I won’t forget to do something important or lose an important email at the bottom of the email pile.
Never read an email twice.
Before I started using my calendar system, I would leave my emails in my inbox until I took care of them. So every day there would be dozens of emails I had to read again and remind myself what action I needed to take. Since they were usually not urgent, I would just leave them there. The next day same thing would happen. Thankfully I finally realized I was wasting a lot of time and energy using my inbox as a to-do list. Now I hardly ever read an email twice.
Focus on priorities.
Time management experts tell us there’s a difference between being busy and being productive, and they are right. You can make yourself busy all day long just answering irrelevant emails, but at the end of the day you will feel defeated if you don’t make any progress on your top priorities.
We all need a break from the constant flow of email. Some days it can be hard to even think. It took me a long time to realize that I was more productive, more creative and more enthusiastic about my work when I took regular unplugged breaks from email and social media. If possible give yourself some hours or even a day, certainly the weekend when you don’t check email at all. Open up some space for creative ideas and big-picture thinking. When you go back to your email, you will be able to go through it with clarity.
You don’t have to be a slave to your inbox. Managing your email more effectively will not only increase your productivity, it will also help you set priorities, and will help you truly unplug when you stop working. You can set your phone down because your email will be at zero, at least for a minute.
© 2016 Fauzia Burke, author of Online Marketing for Busy Authors (Berrett-Koehler, April 2016)
Fauzia Burke is the founder and president of FSB Associates, an online publicity and marketing firm specializing in creating awareness for books and authors. She’s the author of “Online Marketing for Busy Authors“. Fauzia has promoted the books of authors such as Alan Alda, Arianna Huffington, Deepak Chopra, Melissa Francis, S. C. Gwynne, Mika Brzezinski, Charles Spencer and many more. A nationally recognized speaker and online branding expert, Fauzia writes for the Huffington Post, Maria Shriver and MindBodyGreen. For online marketing, book publishing and social media advice, follow Fauzia on Twitter (@FauziaBurke).