Do any of the following scenarios sound familiar?

  1. Your hand is on your phone before you even have both eyes open in the morning.
  2. The sound of an incoming email sends you sprinting for your phone or computer (and it doesn't matter what you're interrupting in order to do it).
  3. You're pulled away from your email by the phrase, "Did you hear what I just said?" on a regular basis.
  4. You feel an almost obsessive need to hit the 'Get Mail' button (you know, just in case your notifications aren't working).
  5. Unanswered emails hang over you causing stress and existential overhead.

If you answered yes to any of these questions, you may have to face the fact that email is ruling your life.

The good news is you're not alone in your obsession. Research shows that the average person unlocks his or her phone 110 times each day - that's about 10 times per hour. Other research puts this number as high as 150 times per day.

And given that even small interruptions - like quickly checking email - can result in a huge loss of productivity, getting a handle on your email habits is something better done today than tomorrow.

Remember: You're not a helpless slave to your email...it's time to take back control! Here are 7 ways you can stop letting email rule your life.

1. Come Face to Face With the Cold Hard Truth About Your Email Habits.

Sometimes it takes a dose of reality to come to terms with your bad habits. Use an email analytics tool such as EmailAnalytics to find out exactly how much time you spend on email, as well as how many words are in an average email you send, what days of the week you send and receive emails most, and a bunch of other interesting metrics.

It may seem over the top, but the average person spends 13 hours per week managing their email (reading, replying, sorting, etc.). Finding out exactly how much time email is eating up is the first step to diagnosing and fixing the problem.

2. Pause Your Inbox.

Simply promising yourself you won't check email often doesn't work. The allure of the email notification is just too strong for many of us mere mortals to be expected to resist.

This is where Inbox Pause for Gmail can help. This software literally adds a pause button to your email, allowing you to stop getting new messages in your inbox. When your designated email-checking time (see #4 below) has arrived, simply click Unpause and all your messages will be delivered.

No willpower required.

3. Use Your Subject Line as Your Entire Message.

When you have a super-short email to send (like a meeting reminder), restrict your message to the subject line. For instance, "Reminder: Meeting today at 2pm in the conference room."

This helps other people keep their email under control, and keeps you from feeling pressured to write long emails just to take up space. No small talk, no greeting line, no signature. Just a to-the-point subject line.

4. Set Designated Times for Checking Email.

I KNOW how hard this is. What if you miss something SUPER important? What if you finally hear back from that guy/girl/employer/client/media outlet that you've been anxiously waiting on?

I'm here to tell you that with the very few exceptions, your emails can wait. This is particularly true if you've trained people when to email you (see #5 below) and you've set up priority alerts (see #6 below).

Tim Ferriss, author of the wildly popular book The 4-Hour Work Week, checks personal emails once a day, and business emails every 7-10 days.

5. Train People When to Email You.

#4 only works when you train the people around you not to expect a response until a designated day or time. Using autoresponders is a great way to ensure everyone knows when you'll be checking and responding to emails.

It doesn't need to be anything elaborate: "Thanks for your email. In an effort to increase productivity and provide the highest level of service to my clients, I will only be checking and replying to emails at 1pm and 4pm. Thank you for your understanding."

Sure, you may face some resistance at first; but once people are used to your new routine, don't be surprised to see some of them implementing this strategy themselves.

6. Set up Alerts for Priority Emails.

Okay, so there may be some emails you HAVE to get immediately. But that doesn't mean you have to be a slave to your phone.

Howtogeek.com has a walkthrough on how to set up alerts for specific people or topics that you just can't miss. Scared of missing a changed appointment or deadline? Give the software access to your calendar, and messages relating to upcoming meetings will make it through the filters.

Get the important emails you need, without having to read through all the emails you don't.

7. Subscribe to the Five Sentences Philosophy.

A 'quick email' can quickly turn into a big email. The Five Sentences Philosophy ensures you don't write an email longer than -- you guessed it -- five sentences.

You may want to include a line in your signature indicating why your emails have suddenly shrunk. Something like this:

Q: Why is this email five sentences or less?
A: http://five.sentenc.es

You don't have to be a slave to your email! Your email should act as a tool to increase your productivity and improve your communication. When it starts doing the opposite, it's time to take a stand and put email in its proper place in your life priority list.

Is email ruling your life? Which of these steps can you implement today to take back control?

Published on: Apr 1, 2018