I Resolve–Five Steps to Email Sanity

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We are two weeks into the New Year. Have you already transformed and reformed everything in your life?

Come on … you know the things I’m talking about: exercising regularly; eating right; dealing with frustrations at work and not taking them home with you? Or maybe you have found the key to establish and maintain your focus at work? Or reduce your email overload to gain time and productivity?

No? Not yet? Whew! Me either.

Actually … I am making a little headway on each of the above. My email is my biggest challenge so far. My top three issues with email:

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The net result is that I am wasting time reading, composing, and trying to locate information weeks later. But I’m hardly alone in this battle to keep an asynchronous medium asynchronous with the universal “I want it now” expectations on response time provoked by mobile texting & instant messaging.

A McKinsey study completed in 2012 showed that interaction workers (those who need to work with other people online) spend 28% of their workweek tending to email. Another study by the Radicati Research Group, Inc. that does technology market research estimated that “Business users send and receive on average 121 emails a day in 2014, and this is expected to grow to 140 emails a day by 2018.” While Radicati documented that consumers might be turning more often to instant messaging and social networks for exchanging information, in the business world, our love-hate relationship with email continues until it’s not working. Then we’re all over our internet provider/email client support person to get it back! And no one can set up new accounts or services online without a handy email address. Looks like email is here to stay.

So what will I do to streamline and make my email inbox work more effectively for me?

I’m starting with some of the fixes prompted by a great presentation—Taming the Email Tigerby Janine Lim, Ph.D., associate dean for online higher education in the School of Distance Education at Andrews University. Janine presented a workshop long distance with Elaine Shuck’s facilitation at IFWE, the conference Lisa and I attended in December.

Step 1: I will turn off visual and audio notifications in email. I have done this before but I mean it this time … and will implement this rule again.

Step 2: I will turn off notifications from social media such as Twitter and LinkedIn.  Instead, I will use Hootsuite to check-in with these social networks on my preferred schedule.

Step 3: I will check my email inbox less often, which might mean 4-5 times a day, instead of after each notification. (On weekends, I will reduce my check-ins to once or twice a weekend and respond then only if critically needed.) By the way, a study by Kostadin Kushlev and Elizabeth W. Dunn at the University of British Columbia, that was featured in Gray Matter of the New York Times recently, established that our checking email less often might give us more time, make us more efficient, and perhaps most importantly, reduce our stress levels, too.

Early in the work day I will try to react only to important items that can be answered in less than two minutes each. All others I will acknowledge receiving and hold off on answering until mid-day or later.

I’ll employ as many “Inbox Zero” techniques as I can without becoming obsessed. Instead, I’ll follow one tip by Stever Robbins, Get-It-Done Guy, which is to Manage Email by Leaving it Alone. He said that “If a non-empty inbox stresses you out, you’re setting yourself up for an early heart attack. There are enough real life things to get stressed about. Email doesn’t deserve that much emotional investment.” I agree with this assessment.  I’ll try to prioritize my emails for timely and appropriate response.  And if something slips through a crack into nothingness, I believe others will remind me to act if it’s important to them.

Step 4: The high email volume requires multiple actions to correct. Just about everything in my work and life comes to this one email address. This includes email from two other email accounts; RSS/email feeds for blogs/websites I follow as part of my Personal Learning Plan; notices from Twitter, LinkedIn, and Pinterest; volunteer obligations; sales pitches from HP & department stores; and all my personal email. I am not cutting off family and friends but I will review all the regular incoming email to unsubscribe from as much as possible.

Is there any way to do this easily? Not that I have found yet.

Several services recommended to me such as Unrollme.com and Swizzle are either not supported by my email client or only pertain to commercial newsletters and offers, not to the majority of feeds that I okayed in my zest to learn and stay connected to others. A tool for hire—Sanebox—is an email management tool to which I could turn over control of my email. It would set up filters to keep me from seeing useless communications and prioritize the rest for my viewing. That scheme is not what I want to do either.

Instead, I will find a few hours to review all the incoming emails and ruthlessly unsubscribe. I will consolidate the remaining RSS feeds into either a daily digest using a service such as Feedspot or Feedly, an aggregator that I will check at my convenience.

Step 5: What’s left? Oh, yeah, my too-many-to-count folder infrastructure.   I will simplify it dramatically. While the recommended three folder system of Archive/Action/Waiting or Follow-up/Archive/Hold may work for many, it’s too far removed from my reality to adopt whole-cloth. I will again seek middle ground and try to keep my storage to as few folders as possible. I will also experiment with forwarding emails to notebooks in Evernote for topics that I wish to keep working on in the near future. In this way, I will have the relevant emails and attachments in one place that I can access from any internet connected device.

That’s my plan of action.  What are your challenges with email? What might you do this year to make it work more effectively for you? There are certainly many ways and tools to manage email. Please let us learn from you. Happy New Year!

Featured Photo of girl watering flowers by geralt at Pixabay

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  1. […] this content can be overwhelming. Sifting through it all takes so much time and can be daunting (in her blog last week Doris describes how she is taming her email, for example). Yet, sift through it I do as contained […]

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