If someone were to peer over your shoulder right now to look at your email inbox, what would that person find? Do you keep just about everything received in your inbox, making it such that you have several hundred or thousands of emails in there right now? Do you keep action items alongside retention items in your inbox, making it harder to know what's been handled or what needs to be done? One little tidbit with an immense impact on productivity is the realization that your email inbox is definitely not your to-do list. I recommend using your email inbox as exactly that... an "in box". New items funnel through as needed.
To make this possible, shift your mentality from "checking" to "processing" new messages. According to stats from email marketing company BlueHornet, folks look at their phones more than 150 times a day on average, many of which are to glance at their email inboxes. Each time you read a new email and, then, plan to come back to deal with it later, that initial reading becomes a distraction because you have to re-read the message and re-start your thought-process on how to respond. Beyond the repetition involved with new messages, stop letting emails rob you of time by retaining fewer and moving them from your inbox.
Instead of wasting time by reading and re-reading your emails throughout each day, develop a habit of OHIO and "only handle it once", meaning you read new messages only when you are ready to deal with them and you use your inbox as a funnel instead of a holding zone. Here are tips to make such emailing easier:
- If the email is asking you to complete a task that takes less than 5 minutes to complete, follow Nike's advice and "Just do it" immediately upon reading it.
- If the email is asking you to complete a task that takes longer to complete, move it to your running data dump of to-do items needing your attention, and make time for completion.
- Move appointment requests to your calendar.
- File reference emails in your personal folders, making sure you have enough folders that everything has a home and no more than necessary so you never have to wonder in which folder you should file a new message.
- Implement delete as a tool so you have fewer retained emails to search through when looking for a specific one.
- Replace multiple, back-and-forth email messages with a quick phone call, even if you have to follow that call with a summary email for documentation purposes.
- Unsubscribe from emails you no longer read rather than investing more time in repeatedly deleting the unread ones.