Effective Email Management Part One

This is the first part of a two part article on the challenges of email management. This article discusses some of the problems of not managing our email. The next article gives some practices of those who effectively manage their email.

Stolen Sanity

Email can be the bane of our days. Every hour a constant stream of emails accost us, demanding our attention. Message after message of information, requests, and advertisements pour into our inbox, overwhelming us. How we manage our email can help or hinder our day, our productivity, and our sanity.

There’s a good chance we haven’t had any training in email management. We are left to our own systems, trying to figure out our own email style. While there are many ways we can manage email, few approaches are effective.

Ineffective Email Management

One ineffective technique is simply not checking. When we use this technique, we might as well not have an email address since we rarely check our messages and once we do, the messages are so old they aren’t pertinent. If someone mentions emailing us, we’ll tell them to phone first so we can be “looking” for the email.

Another ineffective technique is checking and rechecking our email constantly throughout the day. We attempt to read the constant flow of messages, but time only allows us to skim the subject line. We don’t respond because we are busily doing other work, so we leave the message in the inbox to remind us to respond or fulfill the request later.

After a few days, weeks, and months, our email is a mess and every time we check it we get a shiver of horror. We realize we’ve let people down and we have no idea how we will ever get through the hundreds and, at times, thousands of emails screaming for our attention. We have good intentions, but even just knowing about the backlog of email steals our attention, ruins our productivity, and overwhelms us.

At this point, some people give up and simply delete everything to start over again (called “declaring email bankruptcy”). They send an email to everyone in their contact list saying, “I’m declaring email bankruptcy! I’m sorry, but if you have emailed me in the past few months and are awaiting a reply, you will need to send me another email.” Of course, declaring email bankruptcy works, but only for a while. Since we never change our email management style before we know it our inbox, once again, fills up.

Stolen Productivity

It has been pretty much established that humans are unable to truly multitask. Instead of multitasking, we task switch. However, task switching has a productivity “hit.” Over time those ‘hits’ add up and, making matters worse, there’s also a hit on our energy as well.

Ineffective email management results in a full inbox, lack of focus, and an inability to get anything done. Not only do we waste time checking our email, productivity and energy “hits” keep us from getting back on track! Email has become the black hole of our productivity!

There are many benefits to following best practices for email management. Getting our email under control relieves stress, enables focus, and helps us become more effective.

In the next article, I will relay some best practices of those who have been able to use their email effectively and efficiently. By incorporating these practices you too can feel good about your email, find focus, and effectiveness!

Tips For Email Management

The next article will cover the email practices of those who effectively manage their email. Those who do manage their email well:

1) Don’t use email as a task list.
2) Process their email completely a few times a day by using a workflow.
3) Turn off email notifications!
4) Close down email while they work!

Action Steps

  • Read the Linked Articles
  • Read the book Getting Things Done by David Allen
  • Become familiar with the Getting Things Done (GTD) Workflow.

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