You probably don't need a study to tell you that email is stressful, but one does exist. Science has shown that processing email causes your levels of the stress hormone cortisol, heart rate, and blood pressure to spike.
You also probably don't need an expert to tell you that you're nonetheless stuck with your inbox--email is ubiquitous and inescapable. So are we all doomed to dread our inboxes and damage our mental (and physical) health dealing with all those messages? Nope, says Google boss Eric Schmidt, who no doubt is intimately familiar with the overflowing inbox phenomenon.
Schmidt is busily promoting his new book, How Google Works, and recently penned a piece for Time with the company's former senior vice president of products, Jonathan Rosenberg, highlighting the book's advice on maintaining email sanity. Acknowledging that "email … often inspires momentous dread in otherwise optimistic, happy humans," the pair offer their "personal rules for mitigating that sense of foreboding," including:
1. Respond quickly.
"There are people who can be relied upon to respond promptly to emails, and those who can't. Strive to be one of the former. Most of the best--and busiest--people we know act quickly on their emails, not just to us or to a select few senders, but to everyone," insist the pair. Though that's unlikely to ease your anxiety, they also allow that replies can be as short as a simple "got it."
2. When writing an email, every word matters.
Less is more when it comes to email. "Be crisp in your delivery. If you are describing a problem, define it clearly. Doing this well requires more time, not less. You have to write a draft, then go through it and eliminate any words that aren't necessary," they instruct.
3. Clean out your inbox constantly.
"Any time you spend thinking about which items in your inbox you should attack next is a waste of time. Same with any time you spend rereading a message that you have already read (and failed to act upon)," Schmidt and Rosenberg write. Instead, when you open a new message, immediately decide whether to ignore it, read it and act now, read it and act later, or read it later. Most messages should fall under the first two categories.
"If you do this well, then your inbox becomes a to-do list of only the complex issues, things that require deeper thought (label these emails 'take action'; or in Gmail mark them as starred), with a few 'to read' items that you can take care of later," they say. Never leave more than five action items sitting in your inbox.
4. Remember, you're a router.
"When you get a note with useful information, consider who else would find it useful. At the end of the day, make a mental pass through the mail you received and ask yourself, 'What should I have forwarded but didn't?'" they suggest.
5. When you use bcc, ask yourself why.
Almost always, you're trying to hide something, which is a bad idea. "The only time we recommend using the bcc feature is when you are removing someone from an email thread. When you 'reply all' to a lengthy series of emails, move the people who are no longer relevant to the thread to the bcc field, and state in the text of the note that you are doing this," the pair say.
6. If you need to yell, do it in person.
"It is far too easy to do it electronically," Schmidt and Rosenberg warn.
7. Make it easy to follow up on requests.
Schmidt and Rosenberg offer this handy trick: "When you send a note to someone with an action item that you want to track, copy yourself, then label the note 'follow up.' That makes it easy to find and follow up on the things that haven't been done; just resend the original note with a new intro asking 'Is this done?'"
8. Help your future self search for stuff.
"If you get something you think you may want to recall later, forward it to yourself along with a few keywords that describe its content. Think to yourself, How will I search for this later?" the pair advises.
Check out the complete post for more details on these points and one more additional tip.