The Big Idea
Don’t let your inbox control your day.
Questions I Answer
- How do I set boundaries for my email?
- How do I not let email eat up all my time?
- How can I spend less time on email or in my inbox?
- What’s the best way to clean out my inbox?
Actions to Take
- Be more intentional. Implement these tweaks into your schedule and see how much it impacts your day.
Key Topics in the Show
Setting expectations and boundaries for your email response time
Putting time aside in your calendar for managing emails
Creating an email management system that works for you and your work
5 categories to quickly take action in your inbox, instead of spending hours on email
Welcome to Season 10 of Productivity Paradox with Tanya Dalton, a podcast focused on helping you achieve your best life. Join Tanya this season as she explores the concept of bending time so you could stay focused most.
To get her free checklist, Five Minutes to Peak Productivity, simply go to inkWELLpress.com/podcast.
Now here’s your host, Tanya Dalton.
Hello, hello, everyone. Welcome to Productivity Paradox, I’m your host, Tanya Dalton, and this is Episode 123: Spend Less Time On Email.
As we continue our journey to find ways to bend time this season, a conversation about one of the biggest time thieves has to be addressed: email. While your inbox definitely has some pluses, it does keep you in contact with your family and your friends, it can also be a cumbersome beast if you let it.
I want to help you find ways to spend less time on your email, so you can be more effective when you do want to hop on and connect. I don’t want your inbox to
own you. It should be the other way around. But before we dive in, I want to say a quick word about today‘s sponsor.
Gusto is a great tool for small businesses who are searching for easy-to-run payroll services, as well as HR support. A little later in today’s episode, I’ll share how you can get three months free when you run your first payroll through Gusto. Stay tuned for details on that in just a little bit.
But let’s dive into today’s topic, talking about email. Let me ask you this. Did you know the average professional spends about 28% of the work day reading and answering email, 28%. For the average full-time worker in America, that amounts to a staggering 2.6 hours spent and about 120 messages received every single day. That’s about 13 hours a week.
It’s no wonder we feel like you can’t get anything done. We are practically living in our inbox. It’s a lot of time spent checking, reading, replying all throughout the day. Oftentimes, it seems like you have to weed through a bunch of Bed Bath & Beyond coupon alerts, J. Crew sale blasts, Facebook reminders, and all kinds of other spam just to find the important stuff you actually need to pay attention to. That clutter translates into wasted time and a lot of mental exhaustion.
Think about how long you spend when you get home and you have a pile of mail waiting for you in your real mailbox, and you spend a couple of minutes sorting through it all. Only during the day, instead of one pile of mail to sort through, we’re sorting through piles and piles of email that come throughout the day nonstop all day every day, from the time we wake up to dozens of sale alerts until the time we go to
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bed after sending one last work email to get ahead for tomorrow. At least with real mail, we get Sundays off. Not with email, though, right?
In today‘s world, we spend a lot of time trying to prioritize email, and doing things electronically that used to be done on the phone or with a quick meeting. We used to run down the hall to have a 10-minute chat with a coworker. Now we ping them with 10 emails and six text messages, not to mention the several alerts on our shared Google Docs and so on.
Now I’m not trying to date myself here, but remember when we could only check our email from our computers? If we left our desk and we ran down the hall for a cup of coffee, email didn’t come with us. But now email follows us everywhere, trailing behind, and I mean everywhere. You know you’ve heard that woman in the bathroom stall next to you violently tapping away at her phone while it’s pinging and dinging away like crazy. It’s ridiculous, right?
You’ve probably heard me share studies on other episodes about the link between smartphones and our bodies. Essentially, we know that phones affect our dopamine levels, which is our brain chemical that helps us form habits, or in this case addictions, which is why it is so hard to put our devices down. We’ve basically become email junkies, seriously.
Even when we try to put the phone down, if we even hear that ping or the buzz on the table when you’ve put it on silent mode, it is so hard to resist. We can’t stand it. We try to resist, and then it buzzes again and again, and, oh, how can we miss out on these things? What is it? What am I missing?
We take a peek, like a junkie taking a hit, and we’re momentarily satisfied because it was, oh, just a Gap ad. We put it back down and we’re content until the next buzz. Then before we know it, we look up and we’ve OD’d on checking email. An hour has gone by, and we’ve spent a whole lot of time checking the pings and the buzzes while that project our boss has asked us for is sitting there undone.
That’s really the problem. It’s pulling us away from our important tasks because we want more dopamine. But did you also know there are studies that link our smartphones to increased cortisol levels?
Now remember cortisol is our fight or flight hormone that’s really helpful when we’re in a dangerous situation, like being chased by a lion. But it’s also triggered and induced by the sight of our phone and the thought of whether or not we’ve been pinged by email.
The anxiety that we feel based on our sense of urgency to check email or to answer it right away? That means that our phone is creating emotional stress that normally wouldn’t be there. There’s no bear chasing after you or a lion. There’s no
fight or flight situation here. It’s just email, for Pete‘s sake, but somehow our brains perceive it this way.
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Because our attachment to email and smartphones is so constant, we’re in this continuous cycle of worrying and then checking, and then worrying some more and then checking again. This means our cortisol levels can be chronically elevated, which in the long run can really impair our prefrontal cortex and it affects our decision making and our rational thought.
That begs the question: how much email is too much? I mean email can be
o much email can be, well, too much email. That’s a hard question, though, to really figure out. How much email is too much? There’s not really a standard. We feel like we have to be ultra-responsive, that we need to respond to emails within a few minutes or an hour.
But for most of us, our job description probably doesn’t say, “Respond to clients or customers within the hour.” You have some opportunities to make some adjustment. If you feel like that’s the expectation at your office, take a minute and clarify that. Your job may be to respond to clients quickly, but your boss or your manager might see quickly as within four hours or even within 24 hours.
I‘ve seen this time and time again, especially when I go and I speak at companies. / see that the employees have these very different ideas of expectations than their managers do. So ask, when we open the door of communication and uncover what is really the expectations, that could possibly give you that flexibility you want so you can stop reacting to email like Pavlov‘s dog. Don’t assume that your boss wants you to stop everything you’re doing and react to the ping of an email.
For me, as the boss of my company, I do expect my team to respond to emails quickly. But in my opinion, that means they need to reply within the same day. My customer happiness team, which many of you know is comprised of local stay-at home moms, that has that flexibility built in because I want to allow those team members to prioritize their kids during the day. They check email more often than my other team members because that really is their job.
Yes, sometimes we get flooded with emails, especially during our peak seasons. Yet, I encourage my team to check in throughout the day, not every single hour. Still, we respond to email faster than the average retail company, within a few hours.
The key here is that we want to make it manageable. It needs to really work for you and your life, just as I‘ve made customer service work for my customer happiness team’s lives, so they can prioritize their kids. You can set some boundaries and lay down some ground rules for how you want to manage your email.
Now notice how / phrased that. It’s about you setting the tone, taking charge, being in control. But that’s a choice you have to make, and it’s not easy to resist those pings and buzzes, I can tell you that firsthand. I’m a sucker for those alerts. Let me share some strategies with you that I use to make sure that my inbox doesn’t own me. But, first, let me give a quick word about today‘s sponsor.
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As I mentioned at the beginning of the podcast, this episode has been sponsored by Gusto, an online resource that can help with your payroll, benefits, and your HR needs. They make it really easy to organize, sign, and store your employee documents all in the cloud so everything’s available with just a few simple clicks.
Gusto also offers expert HR support, which is a huge help for small businesses just like mine, who don’t have an official human resources employee on their payroll. Gusto also automatically files and pays all state, local, and federal payroll taxes. That’s one less thing for you to have to worry about as a small business owner. I know because I use Gusto myself.
Right now, Gusto is offering three months free just by setting up and running your first payroll. Just go to gusto.com/paradox to take advantage of this easy-to use business tool.
All right. I want to share with you two important things I do to wrangle my email consumption, so that way my inbox isn’t dictating my day. I want to share with you a little bit about blocking and batching. Let’s talk about blocking first.
Instead of checking email nonstop all day, I like to use a blocking technique. That basically means I decide how much time I want to set aside for email each day and / schedule it into my calendar. Personally, I like to make mine four blocks or four containers of time that I work on email. That helps me get out of the ever-interrupting cycle of checking email every two seconds and then feeling the need to immediately respond to those emails. It turns my email into an intentional, calendared task.
Notice that I said intentional, meaning I’ve set aside that time with intention / am deciding when I answer email and I’m not letting it take control of the wheel. It’s not driving the boat.
like to check in once in the morning, once around lunch, once in the late afternoon, and then once again later in the day. That way I dedicate a few minutes to email during those blocks of time. But when it’s not my email time, I turn it off because then I can focus my time on the other tasks without those pings and those interruptions.
Now the other strategy I mentioned that I like to use is batching. I love to batch emails and other tasks throughout the day so that I can be as effective as possible. I batch or organize things based off the action or the context.
When it comes to batching my emails, it usually goes something like this. I open up my email program, I hit refresh to load up my email, and all the new emails start filling up the inbox. So, then / skim through them and I quickly try to take action as / skim through everything. My goal is to only touch emails once if I can and then move on
I classify my email into five categories. First category is delete. This is the junk mail, the ads, the spam, all the things that we don’t really want in our inbox. It just
goes straight immediately into the trash. No contemplating, no saving. If I’m not
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already planning to go to Gap today, I don’t want that sales email. I delete it and / move on.
Category two, designate. If it’s an email with important information, I try to immediately file it into the correct folder, so I can find it later. These are the emails that can be quickly organized for future reference or for use.
The third category is to delegate. These are emails that require action from someone else. I forward them to the right person and then I delete them from my inbox. No need to save an email once you‘ve asked someone else to handle it. I’m not going to micromanage them.
The fourth category of actions is to do. These are emails that take just a touch more effort, maybe a quick reply or maybe I need to add it as a task or an event on my calendar before I delete the email. But, in general, these tasks only take maybe a minute or possibly two.
Then our fifth category of actions is defer. These are the emails that require a little more than two minutes. I move them into an action needed folder. That way, after I’ve done my initial sort, I can come back later, spend the time needed.
In this way, too, they’re not forgotten or lost amongst all the other emails. Maybe it’s an email asking for data that will take 10 minutes to search and download and compile, or it’s possibly an email where you need to spend a few more minutes crafting in order to get the right message across.
But that’s the trick. I use five different actions and I try to really touch email, like I’ve said, only one time. I either delete, designate, delegate, do, or defer. I have found that by using a batching and blocking strategy, I really feel more in control of my inbox, but it really does require intentionality, which means you have to turn off your email program when it’s not time to be in there. You‘ve got to turn off the notifications and the alerts unless it’s email time. Otherwise, it’s so tempting to dive back in there.
I want to really encourage you to be more intentional. I think this is the thing, is really it just takes a few little tweaks and a few little changes to make sure that you’re not feeling drowned by your inbox, I want to share with you a couple other quick tips or words of wisdom to help you take back the reins when it comes to your email.
I want you to remember, first of all, that you set the tone. Listen, this seems simple, but many people forget they actually set the tone when it comes to email. If you immediately respond to every email within 30 seconds of receiving it, then that’s what people come to expect of you. It’s that simple
Then when you go more than five minutes without responding, they might call the police because they think you’ve been kidnapped. You’ve set them up to believe that you’re always going to respond right away. Do yourself a favor, don’t set the standard that you reply faster than a New York minute when it comes to email. If you use the blocking technique I mentioned, and you set up windows of time throughout
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the day when you answer email, then you can set a different pace with people’s expectations.
Let’s face it, if there’s a real emergency, someone’s going to pick up the phone. They’re going to call you, they’ll find their way to your office, right? Otherwise, put down the email extinguisher because there is no fire. You set the tone. Make sure that what you’re communicating is really what you want to communicate.
The second thing to remember is to turn off notifications. I mean notifications are the worst. Who can write a paragraph or have a focused phone conversation with a marching band of pings and whistles and beeps walk into their office? No one. It’s so distracting.
The buzzes and the pings and the popups and the banner alerts, they’re just as bad as a marching band. They’re taunting you, trying to pull you away from your work and what you’re doing. Don’t give in. Just mute them or turn them off.
Speaking of turning off, don’t forget to unsubscribe. I know it might seem faster to just delete the unnecessary emails you get every day, but that time and energy, it adds up. I’m not opposed to sales or marketing emails from retailers. After all, we send out a weekly email with the podcast trying to give added value, giving you downloads and things like that. But when people are emailing you multiple times a day or two or three times every single week, that can really add up.
Make sure that you’re getting your newsletters from places you really want to get it from. If you’re not interested in that store anymore, unsubscribe. There’s an
e button at the bottom of all those emails. Think of unsubscribing as your way to cut down on clutter. It’s like saving trees, only we’re saving your brain power.
Speaking of brain power, you know how you get emails again and again about the same subjects, try using templates when you can. If you find that you get a lot of similar emails where you’re responding with the same information all the time, consider creating a template that you can use. That will help you save time in the future.
Gmail has a way to save these as canned responses, but you could also set up your email signature to auto-fill the body of your email and then just tweak it slightly This is great for when people ask you to volunteer all the time for things. It’s a great way to automate your no. Or if you get a lot of requests for job interviews or anything you’re getting on a regular basis, try using some templates to help you save time.
When it comes to saving time, use your email to your advantage. Most email service providers allow you to set up rules that can auto-sort your emails automatically. For example, you could set up rules in your inbox or create smart folders to sort the incoming mail to help you batch similar things together.
Let‘s say you have a project you’re working on. You can sort by project name so that all the emails pertaining to that particular project get put into a special folder, Then everything related to that project is all in the same place,
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I actually do this with my finances. Anything and everything related to bills or statements or invoices gets put into my Financial Friday folder. On Fridays, I have dedicated time to go through all those emails related to billing. It’s another way that I batch my emails, and I block time in my calendar to deal with those tasks. On Friday, I’m not having to search through a week’s worth of emails to find my bills. They’re all automatically sorted into my special folder, saving me time and energy, which brings me to my very favorite email tip: use different email addresses or aliases.
Now most people like to use different email addresses to help separate work and personal life, which I think is smart. But think about other ways that you can split up your emails. Most email programs like Gmail allow you to set up alias accounts. Now these are accounts that go to the same inbox, but they use a different email address. Then you can use those auto-sorts or those rules in your email program to easily pop those emails into those folders we just talked about.
As I mentioned, I have a Financial Friday folder and I have an alias email address I use for all of my bills. That made it even easier to set up that auto-sorting rule. Anything that was sent to that email address goes straight into Financial Friday folder.
But what else could you auto-sort using an alias? Well, anything related to online purchases. Or what about the newsletters you sign up for? Think about the different types of emails you get and consider setting up aliases, Generally, it’s free and really simple to do.
Here’s what I want to leave you with, though, today. It’s okay to unplug. It’s okay to give yourself a cutoff time and to not be responding to emails or even checking them at all at a certain point in your day. Give yourself permission to set boundaries so that you can enjoy family time, or just give yourself a break. Work will
morrow whether you respond tonight and keep fanning the flames or whether you signal to people that you’ll get back to them tomorrow. I promise, the world will not stop revolving if you do not respond to an email right away.
Thope today’s strategies will help you streamline your inbox and feel a little more in charge. Your inbox doesn’t have to be a place you dread, especially if you fill
it full of things that really bring you joy, like my podcast newsletter.
I want to encourage you, if you do want some weekly goodness to land in your inbox, / share a lot of stories that I don’t share here on the podcast. / share downloads and resources. Sometimes I have videos that / share that go along with our episodes. If you’re interested, and I hope you are, just go to inkWELLpress.com/podcastemail. / promise, it’s never spam. It’s full of tips and resources that I think dive a little bit further into the podcast.
Next week, we will continue our season on bending time as we talk about how to fill your days with substance. All right, until next time. Have a beautiful and productive week.