I don’t know about you, but as a long-time user of email (I started using it in the 1980′s) I’ve gone through several cycles of ‘fresh starts’ through to uncontrolled email overload. I’m now getting to the edge of being in uncontrolled meltdown again after a fresh start about a year ago so I’ve taken time out this holiday season to reflect on what is working and what isn’t … for me at least!
One of the conclusions I’ve come to is that email overload comes from two different areas (let’s forget about SPAM for the moment):
- Personal disciplines and habits
- The effective use (or not) of filters, rules, tools and other organizational aids.
I’m going to focus here on the first bullet since filters, rules and tools are linked to the particular email platforms you use. I will provide some useful tips on these in other posts but for now let’s just look at some ways of overcoming bad personal email habits.
- Unsubscribe from any list, newsgroup or newsletter that you haven’t looked at in a month. Realistically, if you haven’t looked at those emails recently then you probably aren’t going to. I looked at some of the newsgroups and lists I subscribe to (and auto-archive into separate folders) and realized that some of them go back 5 years! All of them unread! (That’s the hoarder ‘just-in-case’ part of me doing it’s little therapy thing)
- If you absolutely must subscribe to an email list or newsgroup first check to see if there is an online version of the emails in the list. Better yet, if there is an RSS feed of the emails you might narrow it down even further by setting up some filters/alerts on just those topics that you know you will read. I’ll post a YouTube example of how to do this shortly.
- Organize your “email time”. I know of people who when in conversation with someone in their office will stop mid-sentence when they hear that “ping”. You can almost feel their desire to read that latest message. People don’t set aside “thinking” time or “doing” time any more. Discipline is a virtue! I’ve weened myself off looking at each email as it arrives. I will spend 5 to 10 minutes at the top of every hour (if I am working at my PC) looking at and answering emails. When combined with color coding and alerts this has broken my addiction and has given me a relative sense of freedom.
Try these simple steps and see if it makes a difference. Leave a comment of your experience!