“Take a moment for yourself” is what I read on SaneBox’s homepage as I began my research for this column. Granted I’m writing this in the midst of multiple pandemics, increased remote work (and thus more email) and unique challenges for all of us. Regardless, we always need to take a step back from our work, especially email, and devote time to take care of ourselves. I don’t have to cite the numerous studies that tell you just how much time we spend checking our email every day (trust me, it’s a lot), because most of us are aware of our relationship with email. For many, it’s not healthy. Are you someone who checks their email immediately before going to bed? Is it the first thing you do when you wake? Those habits impact our sleep and cause unnecessary stress and anxiety to start our day. While this column will not solve all your email problems, I do hope it helps you take back some control over your email and, in turn, increase productivity and reduce some stress. To do that, we first need to address a few core email management concepts, and then we’ll take a look how the software product, SaneBox, can take your email game up a notch.
Create Good Email Habits
Do you get that ubiquitous ping every time you receive an email? Do you keep your email program open on your computer all day long? Are you tempted to check email every five minutes or so? If you answered yes to any of these questions, you may not have a system to approach your email. Without a system, your email will dictate your time. Consider the following situation: You are currently crafting a brilliant argument and memorializing it in a brief. The next minute you hear that email ping, and you let yourself succumb to checking that email. Your brain then transitions away from the brief to review and determine what to do with this email. When you finally finish handling the email (hours later), you attempt to get back to that brief, but by then you’ve lost track of the argument you started and it’s the end of the workday.
Don’t let email dictate your workday. Maintaining control will help you stay focused as well as decrease stress and anxiety. Start by intentionally setting aside multiple times during the day to check your email. Each time you check it, run through a series of questions: (1) Do you need this? If not, delete it; (2) If you need it, what do you do with it? (a) respond if it takes two minutes or less, (b) flag it or send it to your task manager to handle later, (c) send it to who needs it, or (d) file it for reference. This, of course, relies on a system of task management so that you are confident that you will get back to those emails that need a response or further action. Creating this habit is not easy. I suggest using a reminder feature on your computer or mobile device to alert you when it is time to check your email. Limit your email processing time to no longer than one hour; otherwise you’ll get sucked down an email rabbit hole for the remainder of the day. To form this habit, aim to check your emails at designated times for 30 days, and set a reminder at about two weeks because you may have strayed by that point. No judgments; take it easy on yourself. If it didn’t work the first time around, try again. Remember, creating a habit takes work.