It’s an epidemic. All across the globe, business professionals are falling victim to this deadly infection. Productivity is down. Attention span is waning. Time management is a relic. We’re losing ourselves to this fatal sickness that is sapping our souls and distracting us from our work. What is this dreadful disease? None other than this: email addiction.
A few days ago, I was having issues with getting my email forwarded to my Gmail account due to the expiration of my previous domain. (Speaking of which, there is a “Small Business Storyteller” impostor out there at smbizstoryteller.com that is hi-jacking my brand. Grrr…). I tweeted out my frustration about my issues and got a response from leadership strategist, Kneale Mann:
@douglaserice – It’s a sign. Time to walk away from the email.
— Kneale Mann(@knealemann) October 28, 2012
Although the issues I was having were technical in nature, Kneale has a point. I spend waaayyy too much time in my inbox…and I don’t think I’m the only one. Many of the business people I know are religious about checking their email at least once an hour. We live in an age of continuous communication.
The problem? We get stuck in our inboxes. Sending email. Responding to email. Waiting on a response to our response so that we can send another email. It’s a vicious cycle. And while we’re “working on our email,” our real work (you know, what we’re actually being PAID to do) is piling up unnoticed. It’s time to break the cycle. It’s time to “walk away from email.”
How to Break Email Addiction in 3 Simple Steps
Okay, so we can’t walk away from email completely. It’s a medium of communication that other people use and will expect us to use as well. Some emails will need immediate response. Some will need a lengthy response. But, if we’re honest, most of what clutters our inbox is junk. We can’t walk away from email…but we can (and should) walk away from email addiction.
Step 1: Protect Your Inbox
The reason why it takes so much time to read your email is that you’ve let so many people into your inbox that you can no longer tell the difference between an important message and spam. You need to guard your main email address ruthlessly. Yourname@companyname.com should not be available on your website (hypocrisy alert: mine is. I guess it’s different if you’re a solopreneur). Instead, you should create inquiry specific emails like email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, etc. Don’t defer every message to your inbox.
Besides the people who may sneak into your inbox due to how publicly available you make your email address, there will also be those who get into your inbox, because you’ve given them permission. A lot of times, you will be baited into giving up your email address in order to get something free. That’s fine. Take the free stuff, but have an alternate email address for marketing messages you don’t intend on paying attention to. (If it is a marketing message you actually want, it’s another story). Only let people into your inbox who will help you be more productive in your work.
So, next time you get an email message from someone that you don’t want in your inbox, unsubscribe. It will be worth the few seconds it takes you to not have to bother with the constant barrage of emails you don’t want. Keep unsubscribing until all you get are messages from people that you want to have access to your inbox. If there is no way to unsubscribe, ask the person to stop emailing you. If they’re smart, they will leave you alone.
Step 2: Schedule Your Time
The main reason why we check our email so often is because it is constantly available to us. It’s on our computers, it’s on our tablets, it’s on our phones. It’s everywhere. There are even applications that can read you’re email to you in your car. Really? Is it that urgent? If it is, there’s something quicker called the telephone.
Here’s a million-dollar tip. Now hold your breath, because this one’s going to be hard to swallow. Are you ready for it? Here it is: take your email off of your phone. Or, if you can’t do that, at least turn off the notifications. If your phone buzzes every time you get an email, you’re never going to focus on getting your work done.
Don’t check your email every time you get a new message. Instead, schedule time specifically to go through your email each day. I recommend spending 10-20 minutes checking your email 3 times a day: once in the morning, once in the afternoon, and once when the day is over. You should spend no more than 1 hour each day checking your email. If you’re constantly checking it, you’re probably spending a lot more time than that. Here’s my schedule:
If someone sends me an email at 10am, she can can wait until lunch for a response. If someone sends me an email at 6pm, he can wait until the morning for a response. If it’s someone who will have a message that is urgent enough for an immediate response, she will have my phone number. She can call me. But, I’m not going to check my email while I’m eating dinner with my family. Are you?
Step 3: Manage Your Responses
Okay, that’s great if you’ve cleaned out the clutter and blocked out specific time to check your email. You’re on the right track. But let me ask you something. How much time to you spend responding to emails? Aha! Yes, that’s where the real drain on your time is, isn’t it? You’re writing novels to everyone who has sent a message into your inbox. Or, you’re reading attachments. Or, you’re following links. Whatever it is, it takes you a whole lot longer than 20 minutes.
Yes, there will be times when you receive an email and it takes you an entire hour just to adequately review and respond to a single message. The problem, in this case, is not one of time management; it’s one of task management. If an email cannot be responded to quickly and immediately, it should be tabled as another task. It’s no longer in your “check email” time slot. It’s in your “follow up with the XYZ account” time slot.
Move the response to complex messages to another separate task. Why do this? Because if it takes you a long time to answer one email, you will psychologically justify spending more time responding to the other emails to compensate–even if those other emails don’t need such lengthy responses. Keep your email time under 20 minutes each time you check it. If the response requires more time, schedule it as another task for later.
Again, that single email that takes an hour to respond to should be the exception; not the rule. Very rarely should you spend that much time on a single email. Most of the time, you write longer responses than you really need to. Do you really think the person who receives your email reads all five paragraphs you typed for them? Don’t think so. They’re busy, too. Respond to email with no more than five sentences. Treat it like a tweet. Make it brief, direct, and final. Settle the issue quickly and succinctly, and move on. That’s how you get it done in less than an hour a day.
Taking the First Step…
Are you an email addict? Do you need to free yourself from its hold on your attention every moment of everyday? Protect it. Schedule it. Manage it. But the first step is admitting you have a problem. Do you have a problem?