How I Manage My Email Inbox

I’ve had lots of requests to write time management posts here on the blog, and one of the biggest ways I manage my time is by managing my email.

I’m not perfect.

I’ve suffered that sinking feeling when you leave a meeting, only to see you have 32 new emails that weren’t there an hour ago.

I’ve woken at 5am and thought ‘I’ll just take a quick peek at what happened overnight’ then lay awake anxious about the day ahead.

But it’s all a mind game. You are in control of your reaction to email and you are in control of how you manage it.

These tips may not be ground-breaking but they’ve served me well as I’ve navigated through what we all have to navigate - a busy work and personal life.

Compartmentalise your day

The quickest way for me to leave work without having achieved anything is to sit on my email all day. As soon as I reply to one, the next comes in and I’m jumping all over the place, all day long.

I don’t have strict rules as to when I check email but I do make sure once I’m working on a task that I don’t flick back to my email client out of habit and lose focus.

Lately I’ve been trying to work on projects in time blocks or Pomodoros (a la the Productivity Planner). I work on the tasks, but I may also review and reply to emails related to that project specifically. This saves me feeling overwhelmed by the number of emails awaiting my response.

Acknowledge receipt

I work mostly with clients but I think this tip applies to coworkers and family and friends too.

A quick email to say you’ve received their note and will get back to them soon / tomorrow / next week will:

  1. Make them feel heard and let them know you’re onto it.
  2. Make you feel better as you’re not staring at a stack of unanswered emails feeling guilty.

File file file

Get emails out of your inbox. It’s so satisfying to file emails as they are dealt with and to watch that inbox number shrink.

I used to try and keep my email inbox to around 20 emails but unfortunately these days it’s more like 50.

Either way, pick a number to work towards to avoid your inbox spiraling out of your control.

Unsubscribe

Ah, the sweet pleasure of unsubscribe.

As we all go down the rabbit hole of news sites, blogs, digital product offerings and so on, it’s easy to hand over your email address in order to receive a freebie, a newsletter or regular updates from a site.

But sure enough within a month you’re deleting those emails without reading them or wondering how the hell you’re receiving them in the first place.

I have a few that I love to receive (I'm looking at you Jess Lively, Laura Vanderkam and Paige Schmidt) but most of the others just end up annoying me or adding to the feeling of overwhelm.

For me, every time I take a holiday I go through my emails and unsubscribe from all the stuff I’m not reading. Try it now!

How do you manage email? What’s your favourite tip I’ve given?

 

3 Steps To Managing A Stressful Work Day

When was your last work meltdown? Unfortunately the occasional stressful day at work is pretty much unavoidable.

With so many modes of contact, numerous meetings, deadlines and interruptions, it’s a wonder we’re keeping it together at all in the workplace.

A few weeks back I arrived at work and within half an hour was already feeling quite stressed. Emails were pouring in, people were dropping by my desk and our internal chat tool was going into overdrive.

So what did I do?

I stepped away from my desk

When you’re drowning, it can seem counter intuitive to drop everything and walk away. But this is by far the best tactic when you're feeling overwhelmed at work.

Go to the bathroom, grab a glass of water, or walk to the cafe and pick up a coffee.

This will immediately create space in your mind (I usually remember an important forgotten task during these times) and give you perspective. On this particular day, sipping a glass of water in the kitchen reminded me to go back to my desk and then...

I made a brand new to-do list

I realised I was likely stressed as I had not quantified where I was at and had not planned my day properly.

If you do no planning, you’re easily caught up in minutiae and distracted by interruptions.

You turn back to your desk after each interruption and wonder ‘where was I?’.

Once I wrote down what needed doing, I could drop the ‘crazy busy’ act and realise that yes, I had lots to do, but it was going to be manageable.

I did however have to recognise that maybe it wasn’t all going to be managed and completed today.

This meant I needed to regroup and then...

I used the Pomodoro technique (AKA you can’t do everything today)

I’m not completely strict with the Pomodoro technique but I take on its high level ideas.

The concept is that we all have peaks and troughs during the day and we can’t expect ourselves to work at 100% capacity, 100% of the time.

The Pomodoro technique quantifies this as 25 minutes of work on one task followed by a 3-5 minute break (preferably away from your desk).

I’m also looking forward to getting a copy of Alex Ikonn, Mimi Ikonn and UJ Ramdas’ new Productivity Planner. The planner looks great and advises you to only pick 3-5 important tasks for the day and structure the work day around completing those in the short Pomodoro bursts.

The idea that you’ll only complete 3 tasks in a day may scare people at first but, in reality, your time is best spent ‘single tasking’ these important items, rather than multi tasking small, less important tasks and basically only keeping your head above water.  

What do you do when you’re overwhelmed by stress at work? Let me know in the comments below and share this post if you think it will help others.