8:38 I get into my car to go to work. Before starting it, I check my email on my mobile phone.
9:15 I get to the office. I turn on my laptop and check my email.
9:37 I check my email.
9:41 I check my email.
9:45 New email notification; I read it.
10.03 I’m going to take a coffee, and I check my email on the go.
Is it really necessary to pay that much attention to our inbox? No, it isn’t. Of course not.
The beginning of this post could easily be a typical workday for me. What’s more, at some point I have even had two screens: one for the main task I was working on and another one with my inbox always open, just in case any new email ‘landed’ on it. But now I’m getting used to the fact that you can live without constantly keeping an eye on your email. As paradoxical as it may seem, I’ve actually realised that I’m more productive when I don’t pay so much attention to my emails. And I also know now that my email is neither my to-do list nor my agenda; it’s just one more input that may affect the former. Being sent an email doesn’t mean that I have to read it immediately.
How to manage email properly
Here are some tips that you may find useful:
1) You don’t need to check your email all the time. 3 or 4 times a day is more than enough (and you shouldn’t do it more than that). For example, do it at 9:00am, at 12:00, at 3:00pm and at 6:00pm. This way you can focus on your important tasks, those which really have an impact on your business. There’s nothing so urgent that it cannot wait for some hours (and in case there was, you should use the phone).
2) Deactivate notifications. Normally, apps such as Outlook notify every incoming email. Curiosity then is killing us so we end up checking the new email. This is unproductive because it interrupts our task, and according to some studies, getting back to it may take us from 5 to 15 minutes. With Outlook, you can deactivate these notifications and Gmail can be set to download emails only when you click ‘update’. There are also very useful plugins for Gmail, like ‘Pause’, which kind of freezes your inbox. This is quite interesting because, among other things, when you are answering an email, you can ‘Pause’ it so you won’t be getting new emails until you finish it.
3) Unsubscribe from newsletters and publicity. At some point, you subscribed or were subscribed, but this news now ‘makes noise’ in your inbox. It just increases the number of unread emails and this makes our stress level rise and the ‘white rabbit syndrome’ emerges.
It’s been a long time since I unsubscribed from all those sites I was not interested in anymore, and regarding those ones that I’m still interested in, I have organised my inbox with folders. For example, all the productivity blogs go straight to the ‘Productivity’ folder I’ve created for that. This way, they don’t ‘land’ in my inbox and the number of unread emails doesn’t increase. And once a week I spend one hour reading these emails so as not to miss any valuable information.
4) Use the ‘D.S.A.A.S.D.’ Technique. Don’t you know it? It’s ok. We explain it thoroughly in this post.
If you stick to these guidelines, the number of unread emails will be significantly reduced and you’ll get to the so ‘relaxing’ inbox zero. Try and you’ll see. Personally, I have reduced my stress level and I always keep up with the emails I get.
Nowadays, in a world where our devices are continuously connected and we get information 24/7 (which, in my opinion, is excessive), reaching inbox zero is a real challenge. A challenge for you and your productivity. So good luck!
Translation by Susana Castro
Sebas Revuelta is the author of Tiempo de Calidad, a blog devoted to improving time management by the use and implementation of personal productivity tools and techniques.