Mastering your email, master your mental health
Do you often check your email throughout the day? You're not alone! Research shows that 70% of emails are read within 6 seconds of being received. This means most of us are practically living in our inboxes.
Like other forms of technology and social media, checking your email repetitively can be addictive. This behaviour activates our brains' rewards system and releases a hormone called dopamine, which is why we sometimes get a buzz from it. We should learn how to manage our emails so we don't let our inbox govern how we spend our days.
With this in mind, our first tip is to batch email checking and reply. To make it easier, you should:
- Have set times in the day when you read and deal with emails. For example, depending on your day, you can read emails once an hour.
- Set your frequency for inbound emails. Your inbox might automatically check for new emails every minute, but you can change your settings so that they are only delivered every hour, for example. This could help you from being distracted by emails so frequently.
- Close down your inbox entirely while you're doing other work. Just minimising it could shift your attention to new emails.
- Don't waste your most mentally alert hours checking and answering low-level emails. Spending your time and energy answering emails that are not that important could negatively impact your productivity.
Our second tip is to try keeping a well-organised inbox:
- Create a filing system which works for you. Your inbox should not have hundreds of emails in it.
- File emails you've dealt with immediately. This way, you can focus on what matters.
- Use different coloured flags to set a priority list within your inbox. You can use a flagging system. For example, when you read an email, flag it red if it needs dealing with within a few hours, orange if it requires dealing with within 48 hours, and green for less urgent things you can answer once you have more time.
- Unsubscribe to junk mail rather than just deleting it. It might take some time to do this, but it will save you time and energy in the long run.
Our third tip requires a bit of set-up time, but it will save you time in the long run. The advice is to create inbox rules or filters. You can use the clever setting in your email system. A few extra details for managing your inbox settings:
- Filter out any non-priority emails, such as group emails, newsletters, junk mail, or emails you're cc'd into.
- Create rules to pre-sort emails into your folders. This way, you don't have to spend time filing and organising your email folders.
These settings should be available under your email inbox settings. If you're struggling to set them up, you could check how to set up a priority inbox on Gmail or how to customise a view on Outlook.
By pre-sorting emails, you can stop hundreds of emails you don't need to see immediately coming into your inbox. Remember, each email is competing for our attention, so the fewer emails you see, the better.
Our fourth tip is to apply the one-touch system. If an email takes less than two minutes to answer, answer it as soon as you've read it. Otherwise, we tend to re-read emails several times before dealing with them, which isn't very efficient.
You could also save some email templates. Especially if you end up writing out the same response repeatedly, save some templates so that you can just copy and paste the text. This will save you a lot of time.
Finally, our fifth and last tip is to minimise the number of emails you're sending and receiving.
- Always analyse whether an email needs a response. Most probably, your peers don't need an email reply in which you're solely thanking them. You could use other channels to show your appreciation for their work.
- Consider solving issues over a quick call. It could be more productive to talk to your coworkers, mainly if there is a heated or sensitive topic.
- Think about who you copy in. You don't want to be generating emails unnecessarily, so also check whether you really need to "reply all".
- Be mindful of your email replies. This could mean not answering an email if nothing really good would happen when you respond, and nothing really bad would happen when you don't reply.
- Be as specific as you can within your reply. Provide all details and tie up as much as possible in one email.
We've got used to thinking that when people send us an email, we need to respond straight away, but we have the power to make this decision. Remember that your email is just a tool to facilitate your work, not the contrary!