Most of us have too much email. To manage the overload some ignore it, hoping it will go away. Some forward everything around in hopes that they won't have to deal with it, and others accept it as a never ending chore.
Too often, our email is the boss of us instead of the other way around.
Like anything daunting, email overload is best addressed with a workable system. In this case, it's just a few simple strategies.
At first it may seem difficult--creating new habits is always challenging--but once you have it down it will become second nature and you will feel like you have your life back.
1. Make set times for checking email. Get rid of the constant pressure to read and reply by setting regular daily times to check emails. There's a lot of room for variation: Some experts say that two or three times a day is enough; some say an hour each in the morning, midday and evening; some say not to check email after 5pm. Choose whatever schedule works for you and let it be known that those times are when you check and respond to email. You may want to set up an autoreply: I answer email twice a day and will get back to you as soon as I can. If this is an emergency, call xxx-xxx-xxxx.
2. Turn off notifications. Don't allow yourself to be distracted by pop-up notifications. Unless it's a scheduled email window, turn off all notifications and reminders.
3. Start with a quick once-over. When going through your email, begin by taking a quick look and read to see which emails you can delete immediately. Flag what you need to respond to, file what you need to keep, and delete the rest.
4. Make a list. Make a list of responses, either with paper and pen or a notes program. Prioritize and then work through the list.
5. Be responsive and concise. Maintain a friendly tone, but don't engage in chit-chat over email. Make sure you've answered any questions and addressed all points from the message your are responding to.
6. Repeat the question. For the sake of clarity and brevity, start your message by restating the request you're responding to instead of adding on to the original message.
For example: Mary: You asked if I was available to do your podcast. I'd be happy to. Will Thursday afternoon work?
That way the original sender doesn't have to backtrack to refresh their memory. There is no need to write back a lengthy response. One or two lines should do the trick. if your responses are quick, it will free up more time to get through more emails--and, as a bonus, it makes your correspondence easier to read.
7. Don't respond to everything. Don't feel pressure to respond to everything. (Those who suffer from people pleasing will have a hard time with this one.) If it's generalized information (or even a rant) with no specific request for a response or action, don't reply.
8. Use folders and labels. If you manage multiple email addresses on one account, create a folder and filters for each account. This way you will know what emails are business and which are personal, and decide which you want to respond to and when.
9. Don't break your own code. Don't say you will check email two or three times a day and then break your own code. Do not--and I repeat, DO NOT--read email outside the scheduled times. The goal is to get things done without disruption.
10. Take a REAL break. If you're really courageous, try taking off a whole weekend from checking email. Adjust your autoreply to announce how long you'll be away.
Keep the system as simple as possible--remember, the point is to make your life less complicated. Soon, you'll be in charge of the flow of email instead of jumping at every incoming message.