How I Fought Back Against Email Overload

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I love email. It’s efficient, trackable and easy. And I have a pretty good system for managing it. It’s far from perfect, but I’m usually able to make quick decisions about each message I receive — file it away, transfer it to my project management software, tag it for follow up, or just delete it.  I aim to have just a handful of messages (less than 20) in my inbox as my working action items at any given time.

This works for me. The general management of email is an area where I consider myself successful.

The interruptions that come with email, however, are another story.

The Problem

Like most people, I keep my email client open all day. While I don’t use a visual notification to alert me when there’s a new message, I do have an audio alert. By design, I chose the quietest, shortest and least obtrusive alert. It’s a nice, gentle ping.

But on some days, I can go from 20 to 120 messages waiting for my attention in a very short period of time. Combine that with the fact that I also have my BlackBerry jumping around on my desk at the same time my email is pinging away. How do you just say no?

I typically don’t let myself get completely pulled off task, but I am guilty of pausing and peeking when a new message comes in. This pause stinks. If I’m writing, for example, the pause causes me to rewind a paragraph or two so I can figure out where I was and what I was thinking at the time. It’s a minor, yet annoying, distraction that I continue to allow happen.

This week, I decided to fix the problem.

The Solution

For me, the solution couldn’t be as drastic as getting rid of email entirely or limiting it to only once per day. For someone like me who basically runs her entire life though the give and take of email, this just doesn’t work. I get important information via email, so I still want to pause and peek. I just want to do it on my terms, and not because I hear the ping and vibrate notification of a new message.

This is how I solved this problem.

I shut down my email client.

This might seem drastic when I just said I wasn’t going to do drastic, but hear me out. I have more than 12 email accounts coming into my email client. Most of these are not accounts I need to check multiple times a day or even every day.

And remember how I have those 20 or so messages sitting in my inbox that I need to act on? Well, having my email client open with those messages staring me in the face, even when I know I’m not ready/able to act on them yet, is distracting.

As part of my solution, I open my email client just a few times a day to let messages download and to make sure I’m not missing anything important.

I changed my BlackBerry notification settings.

No more vibrating with incoming messages. My BlackBerry has gone completely silent.

I started using webmail.

My primary webmail account only contains my top-priority email, the messages I need to see quickly. And none of the messages are tagged, flagged, colored or otherwise attention-grabbing. There are no filtering rules, and I don’t have any of my folders with their own distraction issues. The streamlined, vanilla format of webmail is perfect for a quick pause and peek.

Plus, I can delete the junk before it downloads into my email client, making it more manageable later on.

I (am trying to) reset my brain.

This has been the hardest, but probably the only necessary part of my solution. I am working not to let myself get distracted. Email is important, but it will be there when I’m finished with what I’m doing right now. If it’s that important that I need to see it NOW, my phone will ring.

And that’s my solution. It’s only been a few days, but I can tell you this: I feel much more in control of the email interruptions, and I finally feel like email is working at my command and not the other way around. It may seem simple, but I think I’m winning this battle.

What’s Your Problem?

What do you find the most challenging part of email, and what do you do to put it in its place?

Image credit: thesaint

Alyssa GregoryAlyssa Gregory
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Alyssa Gregory is a digital and content marketer, small business consultant, and the founder of the Small Business Bonfire — a social, educational and collaborative community for entrepreneurs.

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