I manage email differently from how I used to.
Email of Yesteryear
When I worked in corporate America, I would receive 150–250 emails a day. In fact, the first thing I did each morning was reach for my BlackBerry and check my inbox, and then I was anchored to that device throughout the day, checking it every few minutes, always anticipating every new message. It was an unspoken corporate expectation to be on call, always available.
And at night, before my head hit the pillow, the last thing I did—out of habit—was check my phone for new email messages. Looking back on the whole experience, it seems a bit crazy now, but at the time it felt completely normal.
The truth is that fewer than 40 of those couple hundred emails required any kind of action. Some of them just needed to be read and filed away mentally. Many were irrelevant but still required my precious time to read and decide whether or not it was pertinent information.
To manage such a daunting load, I developed an elaborate system to organize the chaos—constantly checking my inbox, filing messages into appropriate “to do” folders, delegating tasks to various employees, and setting priorities for various actions I needed to take. It was a vicious cycle, and I was never “caught-up.” I couldn’t, by definition, ever be caught-up with such a barrage of perpetual incoming info. But I soldiered on—reading, filing, prioritizing, delegating, and taking action to get things done.
The picture looks much different for me today.
Size doesn’t matter. I don’t subscribe to the five-sentence email philosophy prescribed by some of my friends. I like long emails if they are clever, well thought out, and add value to my life (that last part is the most important). For some emails, however, five sentences is way too long. And most emails shouldn’t be sent at all. Besides, I’m perfectly capable of writing a several-page, 800-word sentence that would render this rule irrelevant (as I demonstrated in the first sentence of the eighth chapter in Everything That Remains). So, instead of limiting myself, I think twice before I send an email. Is there a better way to communicate this info? is the first question I ask.
No more smartphone email. No longer do I get email on the device in my pocket. It was a frustrating transition at first, but I’m less stressed because of it.
Unsubscribe if you don’t find value. Email is my central hub—it’s what I use to aggregate all my incoming info (comments, communications, websites, newsletters, blogs, etc.). If something is no longer adding value to my life, I unsubscribe.
Don’t respond every day. If you send me an email, you will get a response (if it warrants one), but that response is on my terms, on my timeline. No one should send an email to anyone and expect an immediate reply. Life is too precious to spend our days feeling anxious with required email responses.
Don’t act on everything. Not every email requires an action. In fact, most don’t. Sometimes it’s OK to just hit delete.
How could you manage your email differently?
Additional tactics: Check Email Like a Minimalist.