Change your email habits

Two habits have completely altered my effectiveness with email communication.

  1. Inbox zero
  2. Batch emailing

For years, the desire to respond as quickly as possible consumed me. Don’t get me wrong, responsiveness is a fine quality. Incessantly checking email every 7 minutes is not. It’s one of the reasons I committed to no email on the weekends.

Below are the 2 tactics I took to change my email habits.

Inbox Zero

No emails should be in your main inbox.

Step 1

Move all emails to archive.

Yes. All of them.

There’s no need for other folders. The sophisticated search functionality of email clients like Outlook and Gmail are robust. If you need to find an email, “google it” in your archive folder.

Step 2

Congrats, you’re at inbox zero!

Step 3

New emails come in. You’re no longer at inbox zero. Don’t fret!

Now is the time to make 1 of 3 decisions:

  1. Archive it. You’ve read it, you don’t need to respond to it, maybe you’ll need it later.
  2. Respond to it. You’ve read it, you need to respond to it. Can you do it in 90 seconds? Great. Send a response. Archive it.
  3. Flag it. You need to respond to it, but can’t do it in 90 seconds. You have 2 options: Schedule a meeting to complete the task or use the flagging function to flag it for later. Archive it.

Step 4

Make these decisions until there are zero emails in your inbox.

Batch Emailing

Now that you’re at inbox zero – it’s time to take control of when you email.

Think of it this way: You decide when your email pulls your attention. Your email doesn’t decide for you.

In order to do batch email, you must create your rules and your batch windows.

My rules:

  1. No email before 9AM
  2. No email after 6PM
  3. No email on the weekends
  4. No email on vacation

My batch windows (schedule dependent):

  • Morning (9am-10am)
  • Lunch (12pm-1pm)
  • Mid Afternoon (3pm-4pm)
  • Late Afternoon (5pm-6pm)

My batch window today was:

  • 9:41am-9:56am
  • 11:58am-12:07pm
  • 3:09pm-3:20pm
  • 5:31pm-5:38pm

Each batch takes ~10 minutes to go through the decisions above: Archive, Reply, Flag.

The 2 other things I will do during this time:

  1. Unsubscribe. Take 15 seconds and unsubscribe to emails you don’t need. Or use a tool like Unroll.me
  2. Check Flags. Filter your email by “flagged” to check on items you’re waiting on from others or things you need to attend to.

You have achieved inbox zero and created your batch windows. Now what?

Commit to it by trying it for a week. It will be hard. You’re unlearning a habit that you’ve reinforced daily for years.

Some friendly tips that helped me:

  • Don’t minimize. Exit out of the email client after your batch window.
  • On your phone: Move your email apps to your 2nd screen, ideally within a folder.
  • Tell someone you’re doing this. Have them hold you accountable.

But what if an important email comes in?

If it’s that important, they will call you.

Leave a Reply