How many hours a day do you spend in front of the computer, or in fact, is it your day now?
The most recent statistic I saw was that people now spend as much time online as they do watching television – upwards of seven hours a day.
I am no different, but man, I am trying to be. Sometimes it feels as if I email for a living. The overflowing inbox can be, as we used to say about the law, a demanding mistress. But death by email is not a pleasant experience.
Here are five ways to tame the inbox:
1. Use the “4-hour Work Week” method. A few years ago, entrepreneur Timothy Ferris wrote a great book you may have heard of called The 4 Hour Work Week. In it, Ferris shares how he was able to re-think, re-do and outsource so many of his daily tasks that he eventually whittled it all down to the essentials, creating a, yes you guessed it, four-hour work week.
While personally I am not sure if I would want to work only four hours a week, his strategies for handling email overload are definitely worth considering:
- Use an auto responder. We all know about vacation auto responders; this just takes that idea to a new level. What you do here is to set up an automatic email to respond to every incoming message with an answer like, “I appreciate your email and will respond to it as soon as possible, but please understand that it may be a little while as I am busy with work right now. If this is urgent or pressing, please call me. Thanks.” People who know you well enough to call, can, and everyone else will have to wait – just like in the good 'ol days before email.
- Outsource it. One of Ferris’ key strategies for staying productive yet substantially reducing one’s workload is to outsource any task you personally do not have to handle, like email. So, while it would take time to train someone with regard to what is and is not essential for you to see, as Tim Ferris proved, it can be done, and to great effect.
2. Schedule it. One of the real problems with email is that it can interrupt your day all day long if you let it. So here is a crazy thought: Close down the inbox for much of the day and only open it when you have scheduled yourself to do so, say, once in the morning and once at the end of the day. Those big blocks of time that you will then have in the middle of the day? You can actually use those to get some other work done.
3. Use the phone. How many times have you gone back and forth on an email exchange, only to finally conclude that a five minute phone call could have answered all of the issues? Exactly. And how much time did that string of emails take? Exactly.
Set down the keyboard and back away from the mouse.
4. Declare e-mail bankruptcy. In 2007, venture capitalist Fred Wilson posted on his blog the following: “I am so far behind on e-mail that I am declaring bankruptcy. If you’ve sent me an e-mail (and you aren’t my wife, partner, or colleague), you might want to send it again. I am starting over." Not long thereafter, the recording artist Moby sent a mass email out to all of his contacts saying he was discontinuing email for the remainder of the year.
Of course this is a radical solution, but if you have 2,500 emails in your inbox like some people do, it may not seem so radical after all.
5. Assign it to an assistant: As opposed to outsourcing email to a stranger, if you have an assistant, assigning much of your email correspondence is not a difficult thing to do. If you do not have one, bringing in even a part-time assistant can free you up to be more productive.
The bottom line is this: When I was a young boy I remember telling my sweet grandfather how much I loved milk. He said “Too much of a good thing is a bad thing, Stevie.” Thinking I out-thunk him, I said, “You can’t have too much milk though, right Pop?” And he said, “Moderation in all things my boy, that’s the secret.”
Moderation in all things, that’s the secret, especially with email.