Tame the Email Monster With These 3 Easy Tips

Tame the Email Monster With These 3 Easy Tips

07/03/2011 by Jason M. Atwood (he/him)
Sharing a few tips on email management that help take back control of the wild time-eating beast that it has become.

Email is one of those things that has gone from a communication tool to a time-wasting overlord that takes us away from doing real work. Here are a few tips pulled from from the GTD® and Inbox Zero Jedi Masters of David Allen and Merlin Mann.

Turn Off Alerts

The first basic new rule of email to embrace is that you are the master of it, not the other way around. To get started on that path of taking back your time and attention, turn off all alerts, pings, buzzes, badge icons, and sounds when you get or send an email. Email clients were built back in the days when we might get one or two emails a day, so knowing that a new one came in was important.

Now if you are like most, there is always new email waiting for you in your inbox so no need to be told. All those buzzes, vibrations and tray icons have done is to train us, the humans, to constantly be ready to break from our real work and rush over to see the latest piece of spam. Don't stop at your Outlook and desktop email client, make sure to turn off all the alerts on your mobile device as well.

Pull vs Push

Now that you are alert free, take a huge leap of faith and turn off automatic checking of email. No, I am not crazy. It goes to reason that if you are no longer waiting for pings and beeps to tell you when you get mail, you can decide when to have your email client pull down messages from the server. Not only will this start to ease up your dependency on the next greatest email, but will save a ton of battery life on your mobile devices. Now when you want to see and do email, just click the button to check for new ones. Simple.

Sprint Into Email

The last big tip for breaking your dependency and reclaiming much-needed email productivity falls right in line after the first two. Since you are no longer automatically checking and getting alerted to emails, it is now time to reign email back to what it is meant to be, which is a communication tool. Email isn't your job or what you do, it is a tool that helps communicate as you do your job.

Pick a schedule throughout the day and turn "doing email" into a task, something like a sprint of 5 minutes every hour or two half-hour sprints a day. Set that standard with everyone that you communicate with that you won't be answering emails in seconds anymore and that it might take, GASP, up to a full business day to get a thoughtful, researched and helpful response.

To make those email sprints successful, turn off all other distractions and actually get into the task of doing email. Now it has dedicated time and will probably end up being handled better. Go through new emails quickly answering, flagging, deleting or delegating whatever you just pulled down. If the emails are complex and deserve more attention flag them for a period of time later but keep going through your inbox. When done, close down email and get back to work.

Now comes the hard part which is to shift your energy, your attention from the binging, buzzing, vibrating distraction that was email and put it towards actually doing work.

If you are looking for more email tips and tricks be sure to check out my other blog post titled Avoiding Email Bankruptcy with Mail.app Smart Folders & Flags. Feel free to drop me your hints and tips on email on Twitter @JasonMAtwood