• Advice

How to stop email from taking over your life

We’ve all been there. A deadline looms, but before we dive in, we decide to do a little electronic housekeeping. One thing leads to another (and then to another) and before you know it, your workday has been utterly and completely consumed by your inbox.

You curse the fates and swear by Caesar’s ghost or the hammer of Thor that you won’t let it happen again, and then… oh, wait… hold up, I just gotta respond to this one guy before he freaks…

Sorrysorrysorry! I’m back!

I know it hurts, but limit the time you spend with your beloved email.

If you can really stick to a set amount of time to read and respond to email, you’ll be way better off. This is mostly a function of willpower, since our correspondence is available to us at pretty much anytime and anyplace (and usually on several different devices, to boot), but it will truly make a difference!

Try starting your day with a cup of coffee and half an hour for correspondence/surfing/etc. Then challenge yourself not to check back in again until after lunch (for, say, 15 minutes), and then give yourself between 30 minutes and an hour after you’ve finished your work for the day. You neeeeeed to check in on it again before 5, you say? Well, then you better be pretty darn productive before 4:30 rolls around, no?

It can also be helpful to enter an “Email-Free Zone”. In other words, if you can do your work without wi-fi, then put yourself somewhere without access to it. A lame coffee shop… your grandma’s house… a tree… It’s possible!

Get off of those lists!

You may not think spam can have much effect on your efficiency, but you almost certainly spend more time scanning it than you realize. Whether you find yourself sifting through it to suss out actual correspondence, or just feel tempted to find out exactly what Lord & Taylor considers a “blowout” sale on bras and panties, it’s best to take yourself off as many of these non-essential lists if you can.

Believe me, you’re not ordering anything from ProFlowers based on the emails. You’re doing it because your sister’s birthday was, like, three days ago, and you’ve gotta send her something before the guilt-dementors descend.

Brevity: It’s the soul of wit and it kinda helps you get back to work, too!

Write less. Work more. Give essential answers. Make pertinent requests. Save being flowery for your sister.

But seriously, though. We all know (and envy) those people who can write a friendly, informative, and concise email. Aspire to be one of those folks. And as long as the information gets communicated cleanly, don’t fret too terribly much about form.

The time we take concocting the perfect greeting/sign-off can be alarming. “Yes. I’ll have it done by 3. Do you want me to cc you?” works just fine (and you might actually have it done by 3)!

You gotta have priorities…

Work-related email trumps your friend’s kinda-sorta breakup with that kinda-sorta boyfriend, which trumps your cousin coming to town and “do you have any good restaurant recommendations”, which trumps look at this gif of a kitten impersonating Beyonce. That’s a given.

But some work-related email is more important than other work-related email, and should be treated as such. Scan your inbox and respond to those pieces of correspondence first that are clearly most important. That may seem like obvious advice, but we all know that when we’re overwhelmed with email, we tend to take the path of least resistance.

We respond to what is easiest to answer or most pleasant to consider, but those may not be the most time-sensitive. Still others prefer to address emails chronologically for fear of missing something, but that often means that time is spent addressing the non-essential while the clock ticks away on something more important. Taking a few extra minutes to prioritize and organize at the beginning of the day will ultimately make a big difference in the efficiency with which you handle your email.

Now take a break and order those flowers… Or those bras… Heck, get ‘em both. After all, you’ve got a little extra time now!

Kate Shea Kate Shea lives and works in New York City, where she consumes an inordinate amount of Sriracha daily.