Email is the scourge of our modern times. When I co-invented host-based email with my former partner Bob Green in 1984 it was because we found the telephone interrupted our creative processes. We wanted a way to communicate over mundane tasks, like when and where we would meet for lunch next week, without having to interrupt each other. We liked snail mail because the recipient could decide when they wanted to look for it. It was too slow for what we needed, so we created an electronic mail system that delivered instantly while still letting us decide as recipients when we wanted to check for mail.
Fast forward to today, where our “always on” society seems to have an expectation of instant responses. As entrepreneurs it is easy to get sucked into the fire storm of constant email interruptions. In order to focus on the critical strategic needs of your business, you need to proactively manage your email.
Here are concrete ways that you can manage the time and energy of email in your life:
Time Slots: Book three time slows of no more than 30 minutes each to read and respond to email in those time slots. I suggest once first thing in the morning, once around noon, and once at the end of your day. Put those times in your calendar. Stick to them. Let your first reports know this is what you are doing.
Notifications: Turn off all audible, vibration, and visual notifications of new email messages on every single device that you have an email client. It is tedious to do this and varies across each major device and operating system. It is worth it. With no notifications you will feel more in control of your email.
Restrict Your Email: Email is great for short and tactical communications with a few people. Eliminate long cc: lists. Teach your first reports to do the same. Never write more than three paragraphs in an email and make sure there is only one subject per email message. If you are writing more, ask yourself whether this subject would be better handled with a phone call or a meeting. Keep within the time boundaries you have set for yourself for email.
No one is hired for their email skills. Email can consume all available time. If you don’t know how much time you spend on email, keep a journal for a week and note every time you read and respond to email. You will be surprised at just how much time is being consumed by your email handling.
Email has its place. Use it wisely to move your key strategic projects ahead. Manage your email or inevitably it will start managing you.