For a long time I used to get overwhelmed by email. It seemed like whenever I was just starting to make progress on a project the inbox on my computer would ding, signaling that I had received another email.

To make it worse, I had email connected to my phone and tablet, so whenever a new message came in I didn’t just get one alert, I would get three.

Typically when this happened I would stop what I was doing to respond to the message as quickly as possible. Sometimes it was as simple as giving some quick feedback or an OK to move forward with an initiative. Many times, however, I would need to do something more comprehensive, which would require hitting pause on what I was working on before the email came in.

This cycle lasted for years.

Then, one day, while reading my rss feed, one of the authors (I don’t remember who) shared something he was doing that was keeping him from being overwhelmed with email. He would check his email when he first got to work in the morning and at the end of the day before leaving. The rest of the day he turned it off and focused on his work.

Desperate, I decided to give it a try. I began to check my email for the first 30 minutes of the day. I would read, reply, and either performing the tasks asked for or scheduling a time to do them. After that, I turned it off and worked. I wouldn’t open it again until the last 30 minutes of the day when I would repeat what I did in the morning. After that, I shut everything down and went home.

The trick to overcoming email overload is to stop checking it throughout the day and only check it two or three times a day.

Years later, this is how I continue to handle my email. I usually just check my email on my laptop. I don’t even have it connected to my phone or tablet anymore.

I get so much more work done and have a lot less stress throughout the day.

If I start to worry about what’s going on or if the emails are piling up in my inbox I calm myself by knowing I will be check it later in the day. If there is an emergency my colleagues know they can call, text, or stop by my office.

During the time blocks when I do check my email (which I do just twice a day) I focus only on it. That allows me to bust through them quickly without distractions, so I don’t keep people waiting too long.

Using this process has not only helped me get more work done, but it’s helped me get my inbox to zero at the end of each day.

Muting all of the updates has helped me focus  on the things only I can do. Email is a great communication tool and is helpful in getting certain tasks done. But if we’re not careful answering emails can become a full-time job, keeping us from doing work that matters.

This trick doesn’t just work for email. You can also do this with calls or texts by turning your smartphone on airplane mode. Sometimes, when I need to focus more than usual, I’ll set my iPhone to Do Not Disturb. I have a few key people who I have favorited on my phone so their calls can get through in case there’s an emergency while I’m unplugged. Otherwise I disconnect  so I can connect with a project that requires my undivided attention.

Want to avoid email overload? Don’t check your email throughout the day. Check it two or three times a day.

You’ll be glad you did.


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