What is your No. 1 time waster? Without question, the task that consumes the most time each day for most people is email. Some people receive as many as 300 emails in a single day, which is nearly impossible to digest and react to in an intelligent manner.

Even trying to keep up can be a mistake. As a leader of a business, you should be focused more on the long-term picture. You need to be thinking about how that month or quarter is shaping up and what you can be doing for next year. If you're reacting to each new ping from your inbox, your brain is working on the wrong time horizon, trying to change quickly between the present and the future, and that's something your business can't afford.

That's why we need strategies to cut back on our addiction to email.

Strategy 1: Containerize how long you spend on email. The ubiquity of mobile devices has made it even more difficult to escape the draw of your inbox. But what you can do is create a structure where you manage your email two to three times a day--say, by spending an hour in the a.m., another one at lunch, and a final hour before you head home--as a way to create space for doing things like working on projects or calling customers.

Strategy 2: Aggressively opt out. A great many of the emails that fill your inbox are things you quickly delete because they aren't important. Think about the wine list that online retailer keeps sending you or the old newsletter you don't have time for anymore. It's a lot of junk. The way to prune back? If you delete someone's email without reading it 10 times in a row, you need to click the unsubscribe button or reply with a request to be taken off their mailing list.

Strategy 3: Set up inbox rules. You might find that when reading certain emails you do the same things repeatedly. So why not set up inbox rules that can do these tasks for you automatically? Most email systems provide so-called rules to help manage rote tasks. For instance, if you know that emails from a certain sender are always deletes, set up a rule to have it automatically done for you. The same goes for those you want to save for reading later or those that you get copied on and need to archive.

The next three rules correlate with some tips I shared in a prior post about having a not-do list.

Strategy 4: Defer. You will be amazed at what happens when you wait 24 hours to respond to an email. Sure, there is the occasional urgent message that requires immediate action, where the sender should have probably called you instead. If you wait 24 hours to reply to most emails, though, you'll find that you don't have to take action on as many as 50% of them because people have gone ahead and solved the problems on their own. This trains people to address their issues themselves first--and only come to you with the really hard stuff.

Strategy 5: Delegate. Whenever you can, especially if you are leading a team, find ways to delegate issues that come up in an email, particularly issues that are not among your Focus 3. Forward the note to the appropriate person and tell them to handle it in their own way. Then forget about it.

Strategy 6: Don't do. The most drastic action you can take when it comes to receiving an email is to actually do nothing at all. Simply wait until the issue comes back a second or even a third time before you act. Very few issues will resurface and require action.

Using any combination of these six steps is a surefire way to significantly cut back on both the number of emails you receive daily and the time you spend managing them.

Case in point: I have a client who used to get 200 emails a day. By consistently applying these strategies for two months, he's cut his daily deluge down to 40--of which he deals with only five. In doing so, he's created an incredible amount of additional time that he can spend thinking about how to keep growing his business.

Imagine what you could do with several more available hours each day? That's simply priceless, and you need to start giving yourself that extra time immediately. Your business, let alone your spouse or partner back home, will thank you.

Published on: Jan 13, 2015