Interruptions in general waste time and kill productivity, and email is the biggest offender. Checking, responding, deleting, reporting spam, and so on. It never ends, and sadly it seems the norm to get into the habit of checking emails every hour, or even leaving it open so we can see when a new email arrives. And now that email has become so prevalent in society it is, quite frankly, worse than ever. Not only does it waste time and kill productivity, it is impersonal, boring, and mostly pointless. So it was with this in mind that I recently cleared my inbox from 5273 emails (including 2111 unread). Here is how I did it:
Gmail Hacks - Going Minimalist
Most people are more productive when working in a clean and organised area. You email inbox is no different. Read how I went from a massively cluttered and scrambled mess of nearly 6000 emails to a perfectly clean and well organised email inbox by going minimalist.
Useful Emails Only
Unsubscribe from every advertising campaign and newsletter that you receive. If you really want or need something then you will find it yourself when you need to. There is no benefit reading 29 pointless emails every day in the off chance that they contain something of interest to you. If you get useless mass emails at work that you cannot unsubscribe from then set up an automatic processing rule to handle these for you.
Restrict Your Email Access
Set a specific time that you will process your emails and stick to you it. Do not check email at any other time and do not keep your email open all day. If this concept scares you then start slow - set two reading times per day that will allow you to stay on top of your work (e.g. 10am and 4pm). Also set a time-limit for how long you will spend on emails (no more than 30 minutes).
As you adjust, try weening yourself off further by reducing the frequency of access and/or the time-limit. This will encourage you to be succinct and time-aware.
Set an Auto Responder
As you start checking your email less regularly, set up an auto-responder message which informs senders of your email pattern. This will ensure any real emergencies (not fake work "emergencies") will still get handled but just in another medium. If your boss will not appreciate this, then make sure you briefly explain in the response that it will increase your productivity and help you stay focused. They can't argue with that can they?
Action, Defer, or Delete
Now that you are down to accessing your email less and are on a strict time-limit when you do so, you need to process your emails more effectively. Welcome to the "Action, Defer, or Delete" method.
The method is simple: You are NEVER allowed to leave an email in your inbox and each received email has three options:
- Action - if it will take less than 2 minutes you can take action immediately
- Defer - if it is time consuming, you defer with a reminder for later prioritisation
- Delete - if no action is required, delete it
Go forth and kill (or at least maim) the monster that is your email and become more productive. Let me know what you manage to achieve when you start discovering all that "extra time" in your day again.