Unbelievably, statistics say that we spend a third of our work day on email. And it’s not just email. We spend even more time to respond and recover from the interruption. It is the ultimate time-suck that gobbles up precious hours you could be spending on game-changing work to make the world a better place.

I would even go so far as to say that email can be a total mission-killer. Rather than being out and about, effecting social change, email leaves you trapped behind your screen reacting to the latest ding, ping or notification.

But before we devolve into a collective inbox rant, I’d like to share a few tips that have helped me curb email overwhelm and anxiety.

Set expectations for response.

Working in a team can be a wonderful, collaborative experience until the overwhelm of email from all of those team members and tasks sinks in.

One simple team agreement ahead of time will make the experience that much smoother: Set the expectation of when everyone will send and be expected to respond to email. Then respect that boundary with one another. Likely, everyone will breathe a sigh of relief.

Use the subject line.

Get right to the point with subject line codes such as:

  • Re: FYI or NNTR. For Your Information or No Need to Reply can be used when you are only looping someone in, and a response is not needed. Use NNTR often enough, and you’ll become the belle of the email ball.
  • Re: Need Response. Include what it is you need a response on and the deadline for that response at the beginning of the email.
  • Re: Urgent. It goes without saying but only use this when it is truly urgent. You wouldn’t want to become the email version of the boy who cried wolf.
  • Re: EOM. End of Message can be used when the entire email, typically an FYI, is in the subject line. It saves the recipient the trouble of having to open it.

Turn off notifications.

The flashing banners that pop up on your screen. The bells, buzzes and bouncing icons. All of it is vying for your immediate attention.

Notifications are utterly destructive to productivity and focused work. A study conducted by the University of California Irvine discovered that, on average, it takes 23 minutes to recover from distraction and get back on task.

Get some time back in your day by turning off all banners, alerts and push notifications. Personally, I find that quitting out of my email program entirely and shutting off all notifications on my phone is an absolute necessity if I need to get any concentrated focus work done on things such as strategy or writing.

Check it, flag it, deal with it later.

Because you can’t ignore your inbox forever, batching email is the way to go. Experiment with setting up two different types of timeslots for this. One is to quickly check email and flag anything that needs your attention eventually. You could check and flag email at various points throughout the day. Then schedule a longer time slot to respond to email or address anything that crept into your inbox. Ignore email for the rest of the time.

Ask whether an email is the right tool for the job.

One hard and fast rule I like to have when it comes to email is this: never confront a disagreement or a conflict by email. If there is a problem and emotion is running high, the chances are that email is not the right way to reach a resolution (and likely it’s only fuel for the fire).

I do a gut-check with this. If an email is making me feel anxious or uncertain, it is likely better addressed another way. In this case, I find that a simple response with an offer to discuss the matter along with a suggestion of a good time to talk is sufficient.

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