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7 Ways to Exorcise Your Email Demons

7 Ways to Exorcise Your Email Demons

Email has become such an integral part of our lives that it’s nearly impossible to go without it. You can’t simply ignore them and continue to function normally. Just like anything else, however, email needs to be managed and thoughtfully integrated into your schedule.

A popular productivity hack for managing email is the idea of an Inbox Zero. That means getting to a point where you have no emails left in your inbox. Unfortunately this is pretty unrealistic and exhausting. There is always going to be a new email in your inbox and if your goal is to get to Inbox Zero, chances are you’re going to spend your entire day just clearing out each mail as it comes in. A perpetual hamster wheel.

Instead of being glued to your phone or computer, watching for new messages like a hawk, here are seven ways to more realistically manage your emails:

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1. Be clear, concise, actionable, and relevant with emails. The idea here is to cut down on the back-and-forth. With ambiguous and open-ended emails you’re only going to get people emailing you back for clarification so you can expect a new email for every one you send out. You want the recipients to clearly understand your email and not have to respond.

2. Use Gmail’s priority inbox. It automatically tries to separate your important emails from everything else. Priority inbox learns which emails are important to you based on your emailing history and what emails you mark as important. In default mode, it automatically separates your mail into ‘Important and unread’, ‘Starred’ and ‘Everything else’, but you can easily change these settings to something that suits you. Filtering your email shows you exactly what you need, the rest is usually junk or distractions.

3. Don’t check your email too often. This is the biggest productivity killer. Every time your email distracts you, you’ll need about 5-15 minutes to recover your focus on the task you were doing. Set up regular but infrequent time slots to check your email. Some people try to power through work first thing in the morning and then slot in an email check before lunch. Then one last quick check near the end of the work day. Creating these time crunches helps to zero in on emails that require immediate attention.

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4. Use Boomerang so important emails don’t fall to the bottom of your inbox. It’s a pretty nifty plugin that allows you to schedule emails and reminds you to follow up. One particular feature allows you to remove emails from your inbox and bring them back to the top at a later, more convenient time. The Mailbox App for your smartphone also has this feature.

5. Receive less email by sending less email – practice what you preach. Drawing from Point 1, sending email means you will be receiving email. So if you send less, you’ll receive less. Not only are you helping yourself but you’re helping the recipient form better habits too – everyone wins.

6. Have an email routine. Besides when you decide to check your email, how long you’re allowed to spend reading or writing should also be limited. By setting up a strict routine you’ll know when your time is up and to return to your immediate to-do list instead of being side tracked by a supposedly urgent issue. If it is really urgent, you would likely receive a call.

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7. Speaking of calls, don’t handle controversial or highly sensitive topics through email. Email is the worst medium to communicate emotion. All the recipient sees is text so they tend to fill in the context and emotions around an email themselves. If you have something very controversial, you are better off discussing this over the phone or in person to avoid misinterpretations and miscommunication.

Ultimately we need to realize that email is simply one of the many tools we use to communicate with people. It’s important not to think of it as our job and become a slave to it. By using these tips, you’ll be able to manage it more effectively and be more productive. Get rid of those email demons once and for all.

Do you have any other tips for managing email? Let us know in the comments below!

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Last Updated on July 21, 2021

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

No matter how well you set up your todo list and calendar, you aren’t going to get things done unless you have a reliable way of reminding yourself to actually do them.

Anyone who’s spent an hour writing up the perfect grocery list only to realize at the store that they forgot to bring the list understands the importance of reminders.

Reminders of some sort or another are what turn a collection of paper goods or web services into what David Allen calls a “trusted system.”[1]

A lot of people resist getting better organized. No matter what kind of chaotic mess, their lives are on a day-to-day basis because they know themselves well enough to know that there’s after all that work they’ll probably forget to take their lists with them when it matters most.

Fortunately, there are ways to make sure we remember to check our lists — and to remember to do the things we need to do, whether they’re on a list or not.

In most cases, we need a lot of pushing at first, for example by making a reminder, but eventually we build up enough momentum that doing what needs doing becomes a habit — not an exception.

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From Creating Reminders to Building Habits

A habit is any act we engage in automatically without thinking about it.

For example, when you brush your teeth, you don’t have to think about every single step from start to finish; once you stagger up to the sink, habit takes over (and, really, habit got you to the sink in the first place) and you find yourself putting toothpaste on your toothbrush, putting the toothbrush in your mouth (and never your ear!), spitting, rinsing, and so on without any conscious effort at all.

This is a good thing because if you’re anything like me, you’re not even capable of conscious thought when you’re brushing your teeth.

The good news is you already have a whole set of productivity habits you’ve built up over the course of your life. The bad news is, a lot of them aren’t very good habits.

That quick game Frogger to “loosen you up” before you get working, that always ends up being 6 hours of Frogger –– that’s a habit. And as you know, habits like that can be hard to break — which is one of the reasons why habits are so important in the first place.

Once you’ve replaced an unproductive habit with a more productive one, the new habit will be just as hard to break as the old one was. Getting there, though, can be a chore!

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The old saw about anything you do for 21 days becoming a habit has been pretty much discredited, but there is a kernel of truth there — anything you do long enough becomes an ingrained behavior, a habit. Some people pick up habits quickly, others over a longer time span, but eventually, the behaviors become automatic.

Building productive habits, then, is a matter of repeating a desired behavior over a long enough period of time that you start doing it without thinking.

But how do you remember to do that? And what about the things that don’t need to be habits — the one-off events, like taking your paycheck stubs to your mortgage banker or making a particular phone call?

The trick to reminding yourself often enough for something to become a habit, or just that one time that you need to do something, is to interrupt yourself in some way in a way that triggers the desired behavior.

The Wonderful Thing About Triggers — Reminders

A trigger is anything that you put “in your way” to remind you to do something. The best triggers are related in some way to the behavior you want to produce.

For instance, if you want to remember to take something to work that you wouldn’t normally take, you might place it in front of the door so you have to pick it up to get out of your house.

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But anything that catches your attention and reminds you to do something can be a trigger. An alarm clock or kitchen timer is a perfect example — when the bell rings, you know to wake up or take the quiche out of the oven. (Hopefully you remember which trigger goes with which behavior!)

If you want to instill a habit, the thing to do is to place a trigger in your path to remind you to do whatever it is you’re trying to make into a habit — and keep it there until you realize that you’ve already done the thing it’s supposed to remind you of.

For instance, a post-it saying “count your calories” placed on the refrigerator door (or maybe on your favorite sugary snack itself)  can help you remember that you’re supposed to be cutting back — until one day you realize that you don’t need to be reminded anymore.

These triggers all require a lot of forethought, though — you have to remember that you need to remember something in the first place.

For a lot of tasks, the best reminder is one that’s completely automated — you set it up and then forget about it, trusting the trigger to pop up when you need it.

How to Make a Reminder Works for You

Computers and ubiquity of mobile Internet-connected devices make it possible to set up automatic triggers for just about anything.

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Desktop software like Outlook will pop up reminders on your desktop screen, and most online services go an extra step and send reminders via email or SMS text message — just the thing to keep you on track. Sandy, for example, just does automatic reminders.

Automated reminders can help you build habits — but it can also help you remember things that are too important to be trusted even to habit. Diabetics who need to take their insulin, HIV patients whose medication must be taken at an exact time in a precise order, phone calls that have to be made exactly on time, and other crucial events require triggers even when the habit is already in place.

My advice is to set reminders for just about everything — have them sent to your mobile phone in some way (either through a built-in calendar or an online service that sends updates) so you never have to think about it — and never have to worry about forgetting.

Your weekly review is a good time to enter new reminders for the coming weeks or months. I simply don’t want to think about what I’m supposed to be doing; I want to be reminded so I can think just about actually doing it.

I tend to use my calendar for reminders, mostly, though I do like Sandy quite a bit.

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Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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Reference

[1] Getting Things Done: Trusted System

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