Mastering your email, master your mental health
Research shows that 70% of emails are read within 6 seconds of being received. This means most of us are basically living in our inboxes. Like other forms of technology and social media, email can be addictive – it activates our brains’ rewards system and releases a hormone called dopamine, which is why we sometimes get a buzz from checking our emails. So it’s really important that we don’t let our inbox govern how we spend our days and that we learn to manage emails so that they don’t take over.
So with this in mind, the first tip is to batch email checking and reply.
- Have set times in the day when you read and deal with emails – Depending on my day, I usually read emails once an hour.
- I answer emails at lunchtime and at the end of the day only unless something urgent comes up
- Set your own frequency for inbound emails. So your inbox might automatically check for new emails every minute, but we can change our settings so that emails are only delivered to us every hour for example. This will stop us from being distracted by emails so frequently.
- When you’re doing other work, close down your inbox completely, rather than just minimizing it.
- Remember not to waste your most mentally alert hours checking and answering low-level email
Try and keep a well-organised inbox
- Create a filing system that works for you - Your inbox should not have hundreds of emails in it.
- File emails you’ve dealt with immediately
- You can use different coloured flags to set a priority list within your inbox - I use a flagging system – when I read an email I flag it red if it needs dealing with within a few hours, orange if it needs dealing with within 48 hours and green for less urgent things that I can answer when I have time.
- Unsubscribe to junk mail rather than just deleting it. It will take the time upfront to do this but it will save you time in the long run.
Create in-box rules / filters
We can also use the clever setting in our email system to create in-box rules/filters
- Filter out any emails that are; group emails, newsletters, junk mail or emails that you’re cc’d into
- We can create rules to pre-sort emails into your folders so you don’t have to spend time filing them
- You should find this easily in your inbox settings and a quick search on google should guide you through it if you’re struggling.
By pre-sorting emails, you can stop hundreds of emails coming into your inbox that you don’t need to see immediately. Remember each email is competing for our attention so the fewer emails we see, the better.
This will require a bit of set-up time but will save you time in the long run so it’s worth investing the time upfront.
I also try to apply the one-touch system. If an email will take less than two minutes to answer – answer it as soon as you’ve read it. Otherwise what ends up happening is we tend to re-read emails several times before we actually deal with them which isn’t very efficient.
I also try to save some email templates. If you end up writing out the same response time and time again, save some templates so that you can just copy and paste the text – this will save you a lot of time.
- Lastly, we want to try and minimize the number of emails we’re sending and receiving. Consider whether an email really needs a response. Think about whether it is something we can resolve over a phone call, particularly if there is something heated or sensitive there.
- We don’t want to be generating emails unnecessarily so also think about who you copy in and whether you really need to reply all.
- We’ve got used to thinking that when people send us an email, we need to respond straight away, but we have the power in making that decision.
- I use the same rule we spoke of earlier - don’t answer if nothing really good would happen if you did respond and nothing really bad would happen if you didn’t
- Lastly, be as specific as you can within your reply and try and tie up as much as possible in one email