I can’t remember the last time I woke up in the morning and didn’t check my e-mail within two minutes of cracking open my eyes. As soon as I turn off the alarm on my phone, I hit the ‘mail’ app and start scrolling, as if by instinct. The worst of it is that for the most part, the e-mails are ones that I don’t really care about (30% off at blah-blah-blah), or are ones that stress me out before I’ve even eaten breakfast. Instead of enjoying the peace of the morning, my mind is racing trying to plan how I’m going to tackle the day and get to all the action items in the e-mails I just read. HALP ME!
I realize that something’s gotta give – that I can’t let e-mail run my life or my thought processes. Because the moment you become a slave to your inbox is the moment you lose the ability to live in the present. Your mind is forever wandering, regardless of whether you’re at a baseball game with your partner or a cottage weekend with your family. Rather than be more organized and more on-top of things, with each e-mail that comes though, you become less productive and get distracted from whatever it was that you were currently working on. It’s a sick cycle and one I NEED to break.
In the same sinking e-mail boat? Keep reading for the six ways I plan on cracking down on my e-mail habits in an effort to increase my productivity and get my life back…
Set aside specific times of the day to check messages
Checking e-mails as soon as they arrive is a quick way to get absoutely NOTHING done all day. My friend Will Weeks is the Head of Engagement Strategy at Contiki and lives by the rule of checking e-mails only a few times a day. He reads and responds first thing when he gets into work in the morning, then a couple more times throughout the day. Sticking to a system like this means you’ll be more focused not only on other tasks throughout the day, but on the action items of your e-mails. Since I’m guilty of checking e-mails immediately, I’m looking to take Will’s advice and check once in the morning, once mid-afternoon, and once at night (wish me luck!).
Turn phone notifications off
So, I’ve actually ALWAYS had the e-mail notifications turned off on my phone (can’t say the same for Instagram *ahem*). I get my e-mails when I physically open the mail app, and this has been super effective in keeping me sane when I’m not in work mode. Let important colleagues or clients know that you’re available by phone or text, so they’ll contact you that way if you’re not responding to something important via e-mail. Now all I need to do is integrate the ‘check e-mail at specific times of the day’ rule and I’m golden, guys!
Put your OOO on
This is a great one for when you’re actually working, but are spending the day just getting shit done. Instead of trying to manage work communications when you’re also trying to get in the zone, set your Out of Office notifications to run for the chunk of time you won’t be available. You can let people know that yes, you’re working, but that you’ll get to their response later in the day (and then you won’t be inundated by more e-mails or phonecalls asking, ‘Did you get my e-mail??’). Perfect for when you have a tight deadline or need to get in the creative headspace and can’t afford to let your mind drift.
Create templated e-mail responses
If you notice you’re getting the same e-mail requests over and over, maybe it’s time to develop standard (yet personal) templates. For me, it’s PR/brand pitches – it takes a lot to respond to the hordes that come through each day, many of which aren’t relevant or I’m not interested in, and I find that it gets me behind on the e-mails that ARE important. My friend told me about Canned E-mails, a site that has pre-written e-mails for a number of situations, and which you can obviously tweak to personalize your response.
Set strict office hours
My site designer, Angela of Saffron Avenue, does this VERY well. Although she’s a freelancer, she has her office hours listed on her site, on her Facebook page and in her e-mail signature – so there’s no confusion as to when you can expect a response from her. Now, that doesn’t mean she’s not working past those hours or on weekends, but it manages expectations from clients and partners on when she’ll respond so she’s not feeling guilty about it. Simple yet GENIUS.
Unsubscribe + organize
This last one is just a bit of housekeeping that makes life SO MUCH EASIER. There are plenty of apps you can download that will do mass unsubscribes, but one that I’ve used in the past and love is Unroll.Me – it scans your e-mail account and lists all your current subscriptions so you can easily tick off which ones you’d like the app to remove you from. As for the organizing portion? Essentially every e-mail that comes through (besides personal ones) should be placed into a folder. Uber receipt? Add to the ‘EXPENSES’ folder. Client brief? Throw it in the subfolder for that client under the parent folder ‘CLIENT WORK’. You’ll find an organizing system that works for you, but both of these actions will make your inbox much cleaner and your e-mails much easier to locate.
Are you a slave to your inbox, or have you managed to create a system that works for you? Let me know your struggles/tips in the comments below!