For many people, email is the bane of their professional life. Despite the fact that it’s one of the oldest Internet technologies (it’s been around since the 1970s), many people still struggle with managing it effectively. It’s not unusual to see email in-boxes with hundreds – and sometimes even thousands – of messages, which causes the owner stress, frustration and hours of lost productivity each week. Some people simply give up and declare “email bankruptcy”, deleting everything and starting again, assuming that if something was important, the sender will follow up anyway. However, this is only a short-term solution, and before long the empty in-box fills up again.
The most important first step to managing your email is to change your mindset. Rather than seeing it as a necessary evil that’s inevitably going to harm your productivity each day, treat email as a powerful communication tool that can improve your productivity.
Of course, that’s easier said than done. However, I firmly believe that the problem is not with email itself; it’s with the kind of email we receive, the way we perceive email, and the way we manage email:
- We receive some email that’s unnecessary, unwanted, inappropriate, unproductive and unimportant – and that gets in the way of the worthwhile email.
- We often perceive email as being more urgent than it is, and that means we don’t get our important work done.
- We don’t have techniques to manage it, so we feel stressed and overwhelmed by it.
If those problems sound familiar to you, start by adopting these three key principles, which will help you change your attitude towards these problems:
- Don’t let your in-box set your priorities.
Your in-box represents other people’s priorities, not yours. So never use it to decide how you’ll plan your day. Be clear about your priorities first, and don’t vary from them unless absolutely necessary.
- Use email for important, not urgent, issues.
Email is a deferred communication tool, which means you shouldn’t expect others to read your email immediately, and they shouldn’t expect it of you. Use it for important issues, but use other communication tools for urgent issues.
- Treat email as just one of many communication channels.
There’s no law that says you have to do everything by email, and there’s no law that says a conversation that starts by email has to continue that way. Be flexible and willing to switch to other communication channels as needed.
Adopting these principles means changing your attitude towards email, and I hope that this immediately helps you see email in a more positive light.