Getting Past Email Overload

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Gosh the year is flying by, it’s almost the end of the first quarter and things are well and truly ramping up. Business confidence seems to be on the rise, everyone’s got their heads back in the business game and the pace everyone’s back working at is blistering.

And those emails – well they just never seem to stop.

Just like every business owner on the planet these days, my email’s inbox is getting out of hand, actually, truth be told it often feels somewhat overwhelming. I’ve become conditioned to check it regularly. Some days it can be every 10, 15, 20 minutes if I’m expecting something and sometimes, even if I’m not, I might miss something important.

Now if you’ve got the luxury of a PA managing your inbox, responding to everything on your behalf and only letting you see the stuff that’s truly earth-shattering – lucky you! For the rest of us mere mortals with overflowing inboxes, we have to do our own email management.

So, this month, I thought I’d share a bit of a personal challenge I’m putting myself through.

To only check email three times a day – yes, really. 

  • An hour after I first get in – so I can knock over some of that really important stuff on my to-do list before the day really gets going without interruption
  • At lunch-time
  • An hour before I leave

Aside from that, nothing. Now, I have to tell you, when I first faced the prospect of this, I grumpily announced to the person who dared me to take this challenge that it couldn’t possibly work – there was simply too much important email stuff that would demand my attention. Aside from which, I couldn’t possibly alert people I only checked my email times a day. It would somehow make me look less…responsive.

But a dare is a dare and I love a challenge.

First I installed a free trial of AwayFind which notifies me by sms if someone on my ‘important list’ sends me an email. I’ve also set up a system where I forward all my action-ables from the emails I see in those three periods to my task list in Evernote – which means I can check the list without getting lost in checking new emails and the inevitable distractions that ensue. It also means things don’t get waylaid in my inbox waiting for action and the added bonus is that my task list is also created in the process. I’ve also put a message on the bottom of my emails (along with an auto response) to emailers that I only check a couple of times a day (which seems scary when you first do it).

Then between those checking times, I close my email program down – yes, turn it off. And although it’s only the click of a button to turn it back on again, somehow not seeing it in my app dock makes a difference.

I’m only a couple of days into the challenge now, but it’s rather transformed how I’m feeling about my workload. I have whole chunks of time to actually get into things instead of manically checking my inbox. Which, if i’m honest, totally destroyed my ability to focus and took, according to research, up to five times as long to return to my previous train of thought – if at all.

I still have to remind myself that it’s okay not to check. The phone SMSs are good and it’s a lot easier to return to working after a glance at the phone than it is after reading 25 random emails. And what people would think about my not checking – well that’s been the biggest surprise. People have emailed me or told me when we’ve spoken, they think it’s a great idea. Well, I’ll be…

So go on, give it a go. If it doesn’t work for you, you don’t have to continue. Take back control of the things that are important in your business – like your clients and the work you get paid for. If we can help you focus on either of those things – by answering your phone or providing a quiet space to work, we’d be delighted to talk to you.

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Article by Michelle

April 16, 2013