Gaining Ground in the Email Battle

“You’ve Got Mail!” It inspired a movie title. It made our day. This happy little voice that let you know that someone, somewhere in the world, had used technology to connect. Those days are long gone! If your inbox(es) are anything like mine, that chipper little voice would never get past “Yo… You…Y…You’v…” the way emails roll in one on top of the other.

Spam, work projects, notifications, newsletters that I never signed up for, promotional emails from websites I visited once while looking for a gimmicky gift for a relative, cc’d wildly on email threads that go on forever with no way to get off. It never ends.

Everyone has a theory about how to tame the beast – some of them work, some of them don’t, but everyone’s looking for a way out. I don’t have the ultimate solution for how to fix this ever-increasing time sucker, but I have a battle plan that I stick to for keeping the upper hand.

  • Unsubscribe. When it comes in my inbox, I scroll to the bottom of every newsletter and special offer and look for the fine print with the hyperlinked escape exit. Friends, clients, strangers – everyone gets ousted from my inbox when I didn’t sign up or I’m no longer working with them. It’s not personal, it’s sanity-saving.
  • Give Yourself Time. While I’m a fan of quick responses – and work hard to make sure that happens from my end – I’ve also made it clear that after a certain time of day, you may not hear from me until the following day, or within 24 hours. And if it’s a Thursday afternoon, everyone receives an “After Hours” message that I’ll be back on Monday and they can expect a response then.
  • Break the Chain. Before you include everyone who ever worked on your project in an email thread – STOP. Who actually needs to know, and who can be brought in later if necessary? Leave off the “later” people and start small. Before you “reply all” – STOP. If your answer only involves a couple of people on the thread, reply to them and give everyone else a breather.
  • End Your Week. Before I sign out for the week, I spend 30 minutes to an hour clearing my inbox, making sure I either responded or followed up on all requests. If an email contains a task, I grab the information and create a “to do” for the following week so it doesn’t get dropped.
  • Start Somewhere. For non-work accounts (where emails aren’t as time sensitive), setting aside an hour once a month to weed it down from 300+ emails to around 40 – responding, filing, deleting, unsubscribing – works best for me. Plus, it gives me a sense of accomplishment and is a great Friday afternoon task when my brain has already moved into “weekend” mode.
  • Pick Up the Phone. It’s no secret that as a “safety-first” introvert with an English degree, email is my preferred method of communication. I like having a “paper” trail. However – email doesn’t work for everyone. There have been times when I’ve discovered (much to my introvert dismay) that a 2 minute phone call with a client or co-worker clears up confusion that 3 hours of email communication has created.

Email is a convenient way to communicate, but it can quickly spiral out of control if you “deal” with it by ignoring it. Creating a plan is a good first step for reigning it in, and making it a habit will go a long way in taming the electronic beast.

How do you control the email monster?