Addictions come in many shapes and sizes – and believe it or not, they all have one common denominator… you can never get quite enough of what you know is not good for you. And yes… you can get addicted to emails too. So ask yourself… Have emails taken over my life?? Do I manage my emails– or are they managing me?? Are they pushing up my stress levels and reducing my productivity?? Do I feel a compulsive need to respond every time I hear that email alert ping??
If you have answered yes to any of the above questions, then it’s time to get out of denial and tackle your email addiction head-on. Here are your 12 steps to recovery!!
- Let go of the need to check your emails every 5 minutes. They aren’t going anywhere… and where is it written that you must read or respond to an email the moment it arrives? Take control of your time and kick this huge time-waster right out of your life!!
- Establish regular times to review your email – 20 minutes, 3 times a day is ideal. Basic time management states that you do similar and/or related tasks at a scheduled time within an appropriate time frame. Studies have established that unscheduled interruptions during the work day, no matter how brief, waste an average of 20 minutes each – and result in a minimum of two hours lost productivity per working day!!
- Turn off that auto receive alert. A ping that a new email has arrived in your box is almost impossible to resist – so remove the temptation. This is a non-negotiable. If you have a sugar addiction, you aren’t going to get into recovery while there is a bowl of sweets sitting on your desk. It just doesn’t work that way. So do it now. TURN IT OFF… and leave it off!!
- Commit to keeping your inbox empty. Addictions love clutter… they create clutter… and they hide behind the clutter. The clutter helps feed the addiction through causing feelings of anxiety, stress and overwhelm. Make ‘Clear the Clutter’ (within an appropriately scheduled time-frame) your new mantra.
- Deal immediately with any email that can be handled in two minutes or less, but create a file for emails that will take longer. (See Step 6 below.) Always acknowledge receipt of important emails at the earliest possible time (within 24 hours) – and if you can’t respond immediately to the request in the email, provide and indication of when you can and then schedule that commitment in your diary or enter it on to your ‘To Do’ list.
- Create files where you can put Inbox material that needs to be acted on into a ‘For Action’ folder. Once again this is just good time management and creates order out of potential chaos and clutter. Like that old but very wise saying advises… ‘A place for everything and everything in its place.’
- Make broad headings for your filing system so that you have to spend less time looking for filed material. Yup… yet another great time waster – the old ‘Now-where-the-hell-did-I put-it’ syndrome!! We’ve all done it. When we get under pressure we often don’t think straight and it seems brain functionality decreases as stress levels increase… so ‘idiot proof’ your filing system and make sure, that even on your worst day, you know you are going to be able to find whatever it is you are looking for.
- Set a target date to empty your inbox and schedule it in your diary. Don’t spend more than one hour at a time emptying it. This hour will probably be outside of your normal 20 minutes, 3 times a day email servicing strategy. This is where you get into the more meaty stuff that can’t be quickly answered and dealt with. Schedule these as needed to ensure you are keeping-up. If possible, put the phone on ‘take a message’ and hang a ‘do not disturb’ sign on your door – or on your desk if you are in an open-plan situation. I’m not kidding. If you don’t manage your time, (and your addiction) others are going to!!
- Involve others in helping you manage your emails. Send them a copy of this list and manage expectations around response times as per Step 5 above. As and as I said before – and it’s worth repeating… ‘If you don’t manage your time, others are going to’.
- Reduce the amount of email you receive. Unsubscribe if you don’t read updates, alerts, etc. Look at what group email lists you are on and get yourself taken off them if the information you are receiving isn’t adding value to you or your job.
- Save time by using only one subject per email. Keep your emails brief and to-the-point. Make the subject line detailed and clear. Other people are busy too. They don’t want to be working through your version of ‘War and Peace’ trying to dig out relevant information. Remember that less is often more. Simple, concise and relevant wins the day every time.
- Don’t do it by email when you can do it face-to-face. Things have got to such a ridiculous situation in many offices that people sitting next to each other, or across the hall, are emailing each other. What ever happened to talking ??? Yes – there are circumstances where you need to create and leave a clear paper trail – but that should be as the result of a conversation or meeting, not instead of one. Too many people hide behind emails and use them as a vehicle to gossip and/or say things they would never say to another’s face. Don’t fall into this trap. It will only end in tears and general distress for all concerned.
So celebrate being in Email Recovery – and remember, emails are there to serve, not to enslave.