Rethinking your relationship with email and reducing your dependency on it can be a benefit in many ways. From reduced stress and anxiety, to improvements in productivity, efficiency and collaboration, it can also help you enjoy communicating.
I’ve been running an experiment on reducing my use of email in 2015. Here are the five simplest ways I’ve found so far to change the way I approach email.
- Be disciplined about when you check it.
So many of us are guilty of habitually checking and re-checking our inboxes, constantly refreshing in the hope an important response, or new opportunity, will appear. We’re addicted to it.Break the cycle by becoming disciplined about how and when you check your inbox and spend time responding to emails. If it’s going to come, it’s going to come whether you check now, or in a few hours. If the sender requires an immediate or more urgent response than that, they will make sure they get it. If it’s important enough, they will call.Save yourself time and stress, while increasing productivity by setting time aside for email. Twice a day should do it. I find 30 minutes in the morning and 30 in the afternoon works.
- Run a Zero Inbox.
When checking email, take action on everything – respond, act or delete. Flagging for later will only clutter your inbox, add to your stress and increase the likelihood of overlooking something.If you’re being disciplined about when you check email, you’ll have that time set aside to act and start and finish each working day with a clear mind and an empty inbox.
- Don’t reply unnecessarily.
It’s very easy to press reply and send an unnecessary email containing nothing more than ‘thanks’. It clutters inboxes and adds no value to yourself or the recipient. It also wastes your time in writing and their time in reading.I’ve long wished that email services could add a ‘seen’ button, much like the like button on Facebook to help wean us off of this habit. It’s a great example though of how alternative communication platforms, where a seen notification is visible can be far more useful for back-and-forth conversations.Don’t look on email as an instant messaging tool. Use the rule that if you wouldn’t send a written letter for it, an email isn’t required either. If you need a more flowing, two-way or instant chat – use a platform that’s designed for that.
- Unsubscribe or use a roll-up service.
Much of the noise we receive in our inboxes comes from mailing lists we were added to – often involuntarily. I found that by unsubscribing from every unnecessary email list, such as those I was added to after making a one-off purchase from a website, my inbox traffic reduced considerably.I became more likely to see – and had more time to digest the emails and newsletters I actually wanted. For those I had only a passing or occasional interest in, I decided to use a roll up service like unroll.me to allow me to skim and grab what I want, when I want it without cluttering my inbox.Try doing the same for instant email alleviation!
- Move every conversation to the most appropriate platform.
I’ve already alluded to this. Email does not need to be your de facto platform for communication. Use it where it’s appropriate, where it’s not… don’t.Here are a few alternatives to get you thinking:Twitter – Introductions, grabbing attention, quick questions.
Facebook – Instant messaging, longer/ open questions.
Slack, Glip, etc. – Teamwork, collaboration, project/ task management, document sharing.
Skype – Instant messaging, video calls, voice calls.You can be so much more creative and practical too. Instead of attaching documents to emails, share them via OneDrive or DropBox. Upload presentations to Slideshare or Prezi. Conduct polls at work via Yammer.
Here’s my golden rule when it comes to email:
Use the most appropriate method of communication for every conversation.
It doesn’t need to be any more complicated than that!
Think before you email. Particularly in the workplace, make it one of your methods of communication, not your only one.
Bonus Tip: Move Your Buttons.
Much of our email twitching comes via our smartphones on the move. Make it harder for yourself to keep checking by moving your mail icon away from your front screen. If it’s an effort to get to, you’re more likely to access it only when you need to.
If you’d like to talk about ways you, your team or your organisation can rethink your relationship with email, I’m always happy to have a chat. Feel free to use any of the ways outlined on The Work Project website to get in touch, or start by Tweeting me @AndySwann.