Despite popular belief, e-mail does not have to run your life.
E-mail is not your boss. It is simply a method of communicating information, just like postal mail. Before the advent of all of our modern electronic “conveniences” there was an expectation that it would take a bit of time for you to receive information. No one ran to their mailbox every five minutes or had a panic attack if someone didn’t immediately receive and respond to their note. The expectation was that communication took time, and when people were able, they would respond.
Fast forward to 2009, between e-mail, IM, Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, and the multitude of computer and non-computer based communication options, many Americans have a serious case of information overload and Web-induced ADD.
Here is one simple strategy to conquer e-mail overload:
Set the expectation that you will only reply to e-mail once or twice a day.
I know this may sound crazy, but I’ve been doing it successfully for a couple of years and kept e-mail in its proper place. Here’s how:
1. If you have set the expectation that you will respond to e-mail in 2-seconds flat, set up one of these auto responders to start to wean people off of instant access to you.
2. Set aside a day to completely clear out your in boxes. (This could be shorter or longer depending on your backlog.)
3. At the designated time, sit down with a list of all of your e-mail accounts in front of you. Number them in order of attack.
4. Look at the first inbox. Select and delete all of the messages that do not require a personal response (updates, newsletters, feeds, ListServes, etc.). If you can’t bear the thought of deleting something because you “will read it” move it into a properly labeled e-mail folder.
5. Select and move all of the e-mails related to a particular project/person/topic that you need to keep but don’t require a reply into designated folders. (I have one for each client and each business development topic.)
6. Take a hard look at your inbox and make sure there is nothing more you can delete or file before starting to read e-mail.
7. Click on the first message in your inbox. Take the appropriate action (i.e. read, reply, forward, etc.), and then immediately delete or file it. It CAN NOT remain in your inbox. If you need to remember to complete a task related to that e-mail, put a note on your to-do list or calendar and then file the e-mail.
8. Continue down the list of e-mails until you are entirely done with the inbox. The only time you are allowed to spend time scanning the entire inbox is if you can respond to multiple messages with a single e-mail. (For instance I replied to five of my client’s messages sent on one day with a single e-mail response.)
9. Repeat this process with the rest of your e-mail inboxes. The psychological relief will be sublime!
10. Develop a personal system of responding to e-mail just once or twice a day so you can stay on top of e-mail on a regular basis without having it constantly interrupt you. For instance, I block out 1-2 hours every morning to clear out my business e-mail inboxes. Then for the rest of the day, I am free to complete projects. I send e-mail when necessary, but try to only scan my inbox a couple of times a day and only respond to e-mails that are truly urgent. Otherwise, they have to wait for my morning e-mail purge.
According to Lauren Berger, the Intern Queen, this is the best piece of advice I ever gave her! I hope you’ll experience similarly brilliant results.
Be brilliant TODAY!
Elizabeth Grace Saunders is a time coach who empowers individuals who are overwhelmed and frustrated because they want to achieve a life of peace and productivity but are struggling to make it happen. She helps them set priorities, set expectations and set routines so that they move forward, feel peaceful and have time for themselves and the people they love.
She also does women in business keynote speeches about how to have confidence, present yourself professionally, and work effectively with men and women in the business world.
Elizabeth has been featured in Inc magazine, The Chicago Tribune, and on NBC, and is happy to be interviewed for your broadcast or publication.
Here’s a link to an article that confirms that you can and should set expectations:
“She has one client who printed out his preferences and sent it to every employee. Now, employees are clear that he will check and respond to e-mail within 24 hours and will respond to phone calls within 48 hours. He also provided an emergency phone number.”