Is email a problem for you? Do you sit with your email client open all day long, responding to messages as they come in? Or do you avoid email like the plague because the volume stresses you out?
I’ve had my days with email. I’m a supervisor in an IT service organization, and we deal with a ton of it. From client issues to technicians needing help, there is a never ending stream of email in my inbox. My thoughtless approach was to keep my email client open all day, check email every moment I had, and respond to everything as fast as possible.
As you can guess, this didn’t work so well for me. I found myself stressed, anxious, and constantly looking for the next fire to put out (hello, emergency scan modality).
Doing research on the subject of managing email, I found a myriad of different suggestions on how to handle email, most commonly checking it only once a day. In my experience, if you’re a maker, this works fine, but when you’re a manager who needs to respond to clients and employees, staying out of email most of the day does not work at all.
There’s a podcast called Manager Tools, one of the best resources on being a leader in an organization I have yet to come across. In one of their episodes titled Email Three Times a Day, they discussed how to handle the volume of emails while still being responsive and effective in your role.
The premise is simple:
Block off three 30 minute sections per day, and crank out all your email during that time.
There are a few mentalities and strategies this leverages:
- Parkinson’s Law - Work expands to the time allotted to it. By having email open all day you technically allocate all day to work on email. By giving yourself only 90 minutes a day to get your email done, you will force yourself to get through it faster.
- Batching - We all know we work better when we can focus on one thing at a time. When you can batch email to certain times a day, you don’t have to worry about it in between, and you can get it done faster.
- Email is Not Urgent - Being asynchronous, email is not a platform to communicate urgency. If you miss an email that’s supposedly urgent, more than likely someone will find another way to contact you.
- GTD/Task Management - This time is for processing and responding to email. If you need to do a task, capture it and do it later. Focus this time simply on responding to email. If that means to reply back, “I’ll look into it and get back to you tomorrow,” that’s better than letting a single email task blow up your day.
Specifics for Implementation
Here’s how I’ve implemented working with email three times per day.
I have three recurring tasks in my task manager to process email, one part of my startup routine which I complete every workday at 8am, one at 11am, and one at 4pm. The reason I’ve chosen tasks instead of calendar entries is my schedule often flexes heavily working in IT service. If I miss a window, I know the next thing on my list is to get through my email.
Then, I stick to it. No email outside of the block. When I’m in the block, I get to it.
I may break the process if I need to in a free moment, such as I need to send an important message out or update a calendar invite (since my calendar lives in Outlook), but I’m no longer living in my email all day. It’s refreshing.
Advantages and Challenges
My favorite advantage to using this approach is being able to frequently batch email. Since I started, I’ve found I can get through my emails, stay up on information I need to know, and then continue focusing on the work that matters, all in a short time period.
However, one of the major challenges is breaking the addictive habit of your email coming in and having new, shiny information to interact with every few minutes (or seconds, depending on how much email you get).
To break the habit, there are a few methods I’m using:
- Stick to email only in the allotted blocks.
- Get email off my phone.
- Turn notifications off.
- Set my email client to “Work Offline” outside of scheduled email blocks.
The last item is especially helpful. If I habitually check my email, I’m not tempted to start digging through it because there’s nothing there.
Having some strong parameters around when email can be done enables me to say “No” to the urge to just check it one more time. In case. As a result, my ability to focus has increased, and my stress/anxiety level has diminished in changing my habits.
So, how do you process email? Do you think this process could work for you?