Anyone who has ever returned from a few weeks’ holiday will be familiar with the feeling of dread that comes with opening the work inbox and seeing hundreds of emails pour in.
One after another, in they come.
So much of our work life revolves around this communication tool, with a recent US online survey of 400 white-collar adult workers revealing they spend 6.3 hours a day on average checking emails.
For many, email is a daily stress that they cannot get on top of and they will either take one of two counter-productive approaches: ignore the emails as they pile up or they will spend way too much time sifting through them.
Here are some better ways to approach email:
Rate their importance
Some people are obsessive emailers and they will cc you in on a range of issues, some of which have no relevance to your life or workday.
In this case, delete them.
Others are subscription-based emails that you may wish to file away to read in your lunch break, and then there are those emails you relegate to unimportant.
Put these in a folder and answer them when your more pressing jobs have been done.
If an urgent email, or at least one that requires your immediate attention, hits your inbox then don’t procrastinate — deal with it straight away, and move on.
Many people like to designate a set time to answer their less-pressing emails — such as first thing in the morning or for an hour each day in the afternoon.
Do whatever best suits your work schedule, but the key is to have a system and stick to it.
Follow the leaders
If you are not sure what your system should be then take some advice from the top CEOs.
Most impressive is Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt, who responds straight away to email.
“Most of the best — and busiest — people we know act quickly on their emails, not just to us or to a select few senders, but to everyone,” he said in his book How Google Works.
Even if the answer is a simple “got it”, Schmidt says being responsive establishes a positive communication loop.
“There are people who can be relied upon to respond promptly to emails, and those who can’t,” he said.
“Strive to be one of the former.”
Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh has some pretty strict rules for handling email.
These include: if it can wait 48 hours without causing a problem, don’t respond to any emails from that day and for any email that takes more than 10 minutes, set a time, just like a meeting, for when you’re going to respond.
Hootsuite CEO and founder Ryan Holmes occasionally likes to delete all of his emails to clear his head.
He recommends only doing this once every few years, and practitioners should add a disclaimer message to their email signature after deleting unread mails.
A high-risk approach in my opinion, but tempting some days!
Ironically, technology can help us keep technology at bay when we need a few hours to concentrate on our work.
If you are using Gmail, you can download the Gmail “pause” extension, which will stop messages arriving in your Inbox for a designated time period.
There are a number of other similar apps, too, that will help keep your email in check that you may wish to download.
This prevents you from using your email as a procrastination tool when there is other work to do, and it compartmentalizes your inbox as just one of many components in your day.
Because let’s not forget that is all email is: a tool that helps us complete tasks and communicate with others.
Nothing more, and nothing less.