Most of the time I write about how purpose-driven leaders can be more effective in their working relationships, and so a topic like “taming email” may seem like a strange departure. And yet, I believe that email overwhelm is at its heart about relationships. You might avoid an email because it contains something difficult, and the impact is no different than avoiding a person because you associate them with difficulty.
Start doing these five things right now to get your email under control and improve the relationships connected.
- Set up a short-term autoresponse (a.k.a Vacation or Out-of-Office message). The autoresponder should say something like, “I’m working hard to catch up after (X Special Event Got Me Behind) and I’ll respond as soon as I can, but probably not today.” Do not leave this on for weeks at a time. (I’ve experimented with that and found it unhelpful.) This works best if you can use it for a few days while you catch up, then turn it off.
- Set time on your calendar for doing nothing but catching up on email. This might be an hour a day or a three-hour block each week, but you need to set this appointment and keep it like you would any other.
- Ignore email completely for blocks of time. Give yourself the gift of focus and complete presence away from email outside of your email-task-block appointments. If you know someone needs to be able to get in touch with you outside of that time period, email is not the route they should be taking. Ask them for a text or phone call (sparingly).
- Put your full attention on each email and read it carefully during your email-task-block appointment. Read and respond carefully. How much of a waste of time is it to find out that when you finally responded to someone, you offered the wrong information because you weren’t paying attention to the actual questions they asked? Honor your email-task-block at least as much as you would a one-on-one conversation with someone you cared about, and be fully present.
- Convert larger tasks assignments into calendared appointments. If an email comes to you with a request that will require some dedicated work on your part, do not leave this for your dedicated email-task-block time. Make an appointment for doing just that, and honor that appointment when the time comes.
Helpful hint for protecting relationships while you’re doing #5: Inform the original requester about the date when you are going to be able to tackle the task. When the time comes, devote yourself to the task for the entire time and get it done. As soon as it is finished, send the results back via email.
Email as a spiritual practice
I can hear you: “The heck you say!”
Yes, email can be a spiritual practice. Here’s how:
Do you have a spiritual practice that you use at work, or have you known of someone who did? I’d love to learn about it! Please leave me a comment below.