How to Manage Your Email And Ditch Inbox Zero

Penny ZenkerTIME MANAGEMENT

better email schedule for higher productivity

First Inbox zero is not the goal. This goal makes your email your focus and managing your email is not your most important task of the day. everyday. Inbox zero thinking creates crazy unproductive behavior trying to get ahead of our email schedule. Many of us wake up in the morning and read emails, head to the breakfast table, read emails, and then get to our workstations and read emails.

Now think about this:

We receive, on average,  one hundred and twenty-six emails every day.

That startling number results in over 28 percent of our work week and translates to 11 hours of our time spent reading one email after another.

There’s no doubt that email is a handy communication tool in our work environment today. But, responding to emails every time of the day can be overwhelming and indeed damaging. 

Our brains are not wired to handle multiple things at the same time. So, when you answer emails every time, it means you have to stop what you are currently doing, reboot, and then try to focus on that email.

Whenever you go back to the task, your brain again stops, reboot, and attempts to refocus again.

Studies state, it takes about 23 seconds for this to happen (other studies show longer switching costs), which seems insignificant. But over time, it quickly adds up to minutes and hours wasted.

Yet, this does not overlook the fact that we all love emails (or addicted to them- after all it does make us feel important – doesn’t it?). We are quick to give out our email or at least 86% of us.  So no wonder that people’s day revolves around their emails. 

It’s no wonder we often feel exhausted, drained, and defeated before we actually get one task ticked off for the day.

How do you effectively handle manage emails and stop the email overload? What about giving answers, reports, pitches, updates, and many other email-related tasks while achieving your goals?

How do you practice effective email management strategies that allow you to still have work-life balance and not be fielding emails after work hours?

In this article, I will share how to effectively manage your email inbox,  to make email work for you rather than a constant interruption – working against you. You will also learn about practical email management tools and strategies and other tiny bits of practical info on how to schedule your day effectively.

higher email schedule for better time management

10 Practical Email Management Practices

1. Don’t Check Emails When You Wake Up

It’s so easy to become addicted to checking emails first thing in the morning. You start that ping-pong process of fitting your work between the dings and notifications all day long. Yet, when you choose to start the day by going through your email box, you are starting the day with someone else’s agenda. Not Productive.

Instead of inbox zero thinking at beginning the day by looking at your email box, get proactive on your own agenda. This means you should start your day with the most important thing on your Agenda BEFORE checking email. You will be amazed at the difference it makes in your focus for the day.

Never allow piles and piles of emails to rule your day. Always remember that YOU rule your day Click To Tweet

2. Build your time management strategy and time block

Time blocking is setting particular blocks of time for different activities such as responding to emails can help make you more productive and ease the stress and compulsion you may feel to respond immediately to other’s requests. For instance, you can have a strategy to check your messages every three hours after productive work. This supports you give your best to every task, without becoming stressed or distracted by other things at the same time.  Time blocking is a structure that keeps you from checking your email in between important tasks that make email a distraction.

This is one of the best and proven ways to manage your email schedule. When you begin your day without checking your emails first, it means you are focused on achieving your most meaningful tasks instead of fulfilling other people’s requests and demands.

My approach to time blocking is a top-down versus bottom-up approach. That means you don’t take your to-do list and block and schedule it. You could be blocking unimportant things. You start by blocking off time by categories of work you need to do and how much time you need to spend in each area to reach your goals. This is an outcome-oriented approach versus a task approach.
 

3. Create a Scheduled Time for Emails

Many of us have created a personal and work culture with expectations that if you send a message, it is being read and responded to in real-time by the recipient. In reality, this may or may not be true. We have all had days when we are “inaccessible” either for personal or professional reasons.

On those days, did you feel more focused on the task you were engaged in doing? You know you were. What if you set aside that time every day?

A part of a time blocking strategy is creating a schedule where you check your email and respond to emails 2-3 times a day opens up more time for meaningful work. 

Find a time block, a time of day,  that works best for you, and mark it on your work calendar as the time you are unavailable for other tasks. Consider this administrative time, the time needed to run your business. It allows you opportunities to schedule meetings, send documents and respond thoughtfully to others’ emails. For many people, doing that once in the morning and once before signing off in the evening is enough.

I know you are important, so you get a lot of emails and have many people depending on you.

But the truth is You can still do this. If you can’t block just 2 or 3 blocks for email, another strategy is to block other activities in 45-minute blocks, including meetings, and use the last 15 minutes to catch up on email and transition to the next task.  This helps you take a break from email and implement the importance of effective scheduling. Even with this method, you are limiting your time in your email account as this is not the most important activity you have to do and reducing the distraction is may cause you throughout the day..

Building a better structure around your email schedule is not easy to implement, but it will eliminate a great deal of distraction and increase your focus. That will help you organize email for productivity and master your daily routine. In turn, you will gain a real boost in your productivity.

Think about the words of Productivity guru, Cal Newport:

“Sometimes people ask why I bother with such a detailed level of planning. My answer is simple: it generates a massive amount of productivity. A 40-hour time-blocked work week, I estimate, produces the same amount of output as a 60+ hour work week pursued without structure.”

Or perhaps, the words of Ari Meisel, writer of Art of Less Doing:

“No matter how you look at it, tasks involve timing.”

Stop unrestricted access to yourself through instant email notifications. It only leads to random and continuous checking of email, which means you give time to other people's priorities and not yours. Click To Tweet

4. Manage Others Expectations

Subject lines are a simple way to support the more effective use of email and set expectations. First, make sure you change the subject line each time to reflect the current message content. It doesn’t help anyone to see a message about lunch 4 weeks ago that is now about a client project.

One of the more difficult tasks is managing the expectations of others. In some workplace cultures, it seems like you spend the whole day putting out fires. Setting expectations is a two-way street. Sit with your team and identify what is urgent and how to communicate this by email, message, or phone. In reality, this is a vital team-building technique and will help you achieve a more productive team.

Another way to effectively use the subject line is to agree on a naming standard for email subject lines that include when a response is needed, i.e., NRT, NRTM, NREOW – Need Response Today, Need Response Tomorrow, Need Response End Of Week, respectively.

By setting these expectations together, you don’t get caught up in false urgencies. You can also set up email response blocks.

Once you have set up a time for email, communicate to others when you will be available. Be clear about the actual time you will be available to read and respond to documents arriving and when you are available to schedule meetings. To help “remind” others of this schedule, be sure to send emails only during this designated time, put a  footer on your email about your response times and stick to your own scheduled time. Also, as mentioned earlier, be sure to block the time on any shared calendars.

Recommended Reading: Time Management: To Much To Do With Jones Loflin

 

better email schedule and ditch inbox zero

5. Turn Off Email Notifications

Once you have set up the time blocks and informed your clients and coworkers of how you intend to structure your day to respond to email, now comes the hardest part of the plan, putting it into action.

Breaking old habits is difficult. To help you stick to these habits, turn off all notifications on your laptop and other devices that might keep you from adhering to your new schedule. Leave your phone in your work bag or somewhere that you can’t access. This will help to make the transition. Consider removing your work email from personal devices.

To successfully shift from checking email on an ad-hoc basis to someone who has a disciplined approach to emails takes time. Yet, no matter what you do be patient and kind to yourself.

We may live in a culture where you are available 24/7, but you don’t have to respond with that same availability. You train people how to treat you and what to expect. Although it is hard at first, it will create more freedom and flexibility for you and focus on your most important actions.

Set some boundaries, set some group processes and standards, and manage expectations more effectively process emails. Make email a productivity tool rather than a distraction.

Distractions are always pesky. Identify them, deal with them and never forget that you are always in charge of your time. Click To Tweet

 

6. Check Emails in batches and Empty Them as You Go

During your email time,  make sure you do something with every email you open. This leads us to the 4D’s of time management:

  • Do: if actionable and will take under two minutes, do that task immediately.
  • Delegate: Forward tasks to the right people. It’s not about passing on your responsibilities but making sure you spend more time on your actual tasks.
  • Defer: if the email isn’t urgent, reply at a better time
  • Delete: Trash unimportant emails  ASAP
  • File: Correctly organize important emails and time accordingly

We also talked about using subject lines to set expectations. This will also help you practice this proven time management technique.

7. Use Email Management Tools

Besides turning off notifications, you can also consider tools like Unroll.me or Sanebox. They can help sort and declutter your inbox, helping you avoid email overload. Unroll.me also helps you unsubscribe from subscriptions that have become a nuisance seamlessly.

Don’t also forget to invest in a productivity tool, so you can quickly file tasks correctly. Consider investing in a tool such as Wunderlist, Todoist, or Trello. These tools integrate with your email and can help you list tasks you need to get back to at the right time.

Your email program such as Gmail or Outlook may also help you establish these prompts as rules. So, when an email comes in with a particular subject, it goes straight into a particular folder.

As echoed by Hsieh:

“If it can wait 48 hours without causing harm, then you are not allowed to respond to any emails that come in today, even if it’s a simple one-word reply.”

8. When you finally send a reply, think carefully

Avoid having too many back-and-forth exchanges by thinking carefully. This helps you connect better with your team and clients.

To also make sure you are thinking about each email carefully, consider the ‘five sentences’ philosophy. This means writing only five sentences and making sure those five sentences contain everything you were asked and a lot more that may be asked afterwards.

This simple but proven email management strategy will help you use a few emails to communicate instead of sending ten different unnecessary emails that only waste your time. That way, you can effectively manage your email schedule without fear of communicating more than necessary with one person.

9. Have a non-essential email

Do you also receive emails such as blogs, article feeds, and newsletters? You can re-route to a different address. You can also use rules so that the emails will deliver straight to a specific folder. Or just create a special email for subscribing to those services so they don’t clutter your main inbox and you can check them out when you want to.

This helps you keep your primary inbox clear, so you can focus on the work-related task during work time and read those other emails at a more convenient time. In truth, when every email you have has a home, it means you don’t have to spend time trying to find important emails out of heaps and heaps of emails.

Recommended Posts: Time blocking and scheduling: 9 crucial apps to plan your day

10. Take a break from email

During important moments with family, consider taking a break from everything about your email schedule. Always remember that there will always be one more email or task for you.

If you let things get out of hand, you might find yourself checking work email on weekends and even when you should be getting your much-needed rest. Learn to schedule your day effectively, and you can avoid becoming overwhelmed and stressed all the time. That’s how you reach optimal productivity.

Concluding Thoughts

Still in doubt about making your email schedule work for you instead of having it rule your day? Can you see how inbox zero thinking has messed with your focus? Think about this:

Time management experts such as Tim Ferris only respond to emails twice a day. That way, he spends more time doing things that are most important to him. That is productive. It also means he is less stressed and more energetic to deliver his best.  Your work-life balance matters, so you need to tame that addiction. This doesn’t mean his email management techniques would work for you but find your own. First, just stop managing your email with zero inbox thinking and get clear on what is most important.

You need a technique that is unique to your goals, work, and responsibilities. At the bottom line, you need to stop email from ruling your life. It’s time to take back control.