I have a complex love hate relationship with email. It’s a truly seductive medium of communication. As an introvert, it is a very comfortable way to reach out and share from the safety of my laptop. I can take time to make sure I get the words right and there are no interruptions. It’s often faster than setting up a call or meeting. And big bonus for me is I can do it any time of the day or night which helps me as I am always trying to get one more thing done and my most productive times are when lots of folks are sleeping.
But emails are also a huge time suck and the volume I receive is overwhelming. I literally get hundreds of them EVERY day to my work, personal and not for profit email addresses. I find it depressing to open any mail box when I haven’t checked for a while. I don’t find reviewing and responding to emails an enjoyable experience for the most part. Reading Your Brain at Work by David Rock helped me understand why I feel mentally drained after reviewing them and deciding which to answer, flag for later, or delete right away.
So I am trying to be much more intentional about my use of email. I try to identify where it serves me and my goals well and where it doesn’t. Taking stock is a good place to start to assess your use of email. First count the average number of emails you receive in a day. Tracking for a week or two is good to give you a feel for any trends. The number will be large I would guess if you work at Amazon as I do or a place like it. For me it was truly staggering!
Then look at all those emails you receive and categorize them to identify those you can eliminate right off the bat. Trust me it will feel GREAT!
1. Emails You Don’t Need Period
To identify emails you don’t need to receive, ask yourself a few questions. If the email is part of a subscription (internal list or external provider), why did you sign up and is the reason still valid? Do you even remember signing up and why? If you don’t remember or the reason is no longer valid, those are good indicators these emails need to go. I was embarrassed to realize how many emails I received that fell in this bucket either because things changed for me (e.g. role, team, interest). It then dawned on me that because I didn’t feel like taking the little bit of extra effort to unsubscribe; I instead deleted – -over and over and over – – sometimes daily. But unsubscribing I only needed to do once which made so-o much more sense.
2. Emails You’ll Never Find Time to Read
If you get emails you want to read but in truth never do read, just unsubscribe because even just deleting them takes time and energy. Here it really helps to be honest with yourself even if a little painful. The upside is you can remove the guilt of thinking you should be reading them which is wasted energy anyway. I had a lots of these too. I subscribed to email lists aspirationally, thinking I would delve into all these topics I was interested in professionally or personally. I don’t need the shame of looking at them come in each day knowing I won’t find the time to review. When I am ready (maybe retirement – ha-ha), I can always subscribe again.
3. Emails that Should Be a Phone Call or Meeting
If you see an email thread that churned (lots of emails back and forth with people seeming confused or worse yet frustrated), ask yourself whether a phone call or meeting would have been better. Hint, the answer is most often, “Yes.” Then look for themes on when this happens, identify early on a email string candidate ripe for churn and set up that meeting or call rather than reply to avoid getting those emails flooding into your in-box. And you will save the other people on the string the aggravation — two for one!
As you may have figured out from previous posts, I really like goals. My kids like to joke with me about it because about any problem they have, I suggest they create a goal. But it works, I promise!
So here too, I have set a goal to receive less email and recommend you do too and then work until you achieve the goal. Track your progress every week and then month; thing change and you need to too. Once you completed this effort, put a calendar reminder to do at least annually if not more frequently since if you are like me, your usage will be dynamic. Closed loops are powerful and ensure you continue to learn and improve.
Next post I will share my will tips on how to most effectively review and action your remaining emails.