By Joshua Zerkel
Are you feeling overwhelmed by your email inbox? You are not alone. Email is complicated because it is an interruptive medium. If you leave the door open for email all day long—i.e., if you have email programs open in front of you, or your phone alerts you every time a new message comes in—chances are you’re going to feel overwhelmed all the time. You can’t control when an email comes to you, so if you leave that door open, you are going to feel bombarded all day long. Here are two ways to gain control over your inbox—and your time.
Turn off message alerts. Unless you are in an industry that requires instant responses, the first thing I’d encourage you to do is turn off any new message alerts. For most people, the majority of emails that come through do not require immediate attention. At the same time, email has become commonplace enough that you know you’re receiving email—you don’t need your phone or computer to tell you that.
Schedule time to process email. If you know you’ve got messages waiting for you, it makes sense to schedule the time to address it. Email is not the kind of thing you can simply get to in your spare time. It is a real task, and just as returning phone calls takes time, so too does processing email. I recommend setting up a few times in the day to check email—maybe once in the morning, once after lunch, and one more time when you’re ready to wrap up the day. A few times a day is typically enough to respond to email. Even if you’re not responding instantly, you’re still responding within a few hours, and in most cases people will still feel that you are being responsive. If you find that you are completely overwhelmed by email, make these real, scheduled appointments on your calendar.
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