I remembered when I first started work. I felt like I was missing out because I would only get one or two emails a day. Last year, I was getting that many emails every ten minutes.
My issue with email is that the content varies but the space doesn’t. All these emails take up the same amount of space:
- mission-critical information
- unimportant reminder
- message from a family member about an event that weekend.
The time consumer is discerning the sense from the nonsense, as they can appear the same.
This is where I applied the Pareto principle. I assume two things about my work email.
- 20% of my email takes up 80% of the time.
- If it’s in an email, it can wait an hour.
My own personal problems were:
- I was a slave to the notification bar.
- I wasn’t processing my inbox.
- I don’t have email open when I’m working. It’s too much of a distraction, and nothing important enough to require a notification is coming in.
- This works for me, but it may not for you. You can adjust people’s expectations though. If something is important enough to require my attention before an hour, then I have a phone or you can come and see me.
- Email gets processed, not opened. Applying the GTD flowchart, next actions get moved to my next action list. Information is noted and stored. Longer reads get moved to my reading list.
- I process email once an hour and I’m typically back to Inbox Zero within about 10 minutes.
- I find reminders about reminders a complete waste of my time. I understand that certain people can’t be trusted to create reminders or remember what to do, but I do because I have a system that captures it all. I create rules in Outlook to move these to a folder automatically before I even have to read it.
- I delete without mercy. If this is an email that I will not even think about referencing back to, then it is gone. Don’t file it, don’t open it.
- Unsubscribe from everything.
The number of emails you receive is in no way related to how important you are to your employer, regardless of what you may think. It is not something to be boasted about. IN fact, if anything, I will now boast about how few emails I receive. If at the top of the hour i have no emails, I feel relief.
The other side to this is thinking about the emails you send. Can you pick up the phone, or go and see the person you need to speak to? I like to have a time in the morning and a time in the afternoon where I batch up my “visits”, usually with a bathroom trip and any errands I need to run. I carry a mug and get a green tea once I’m finished.
Here’s what I minimalize when I’m writing an email
- Content. Keep it clear and concise.
- Pleasantries. No one reads them in an email. If I want pleasantries I go and see them.
- Errors. I usually take an extra second or two just to check there are no errors, which are distracting and take away from your content.
- Swearing. Remember your writing is a representation of yourself.
- Spam. Just… no.