3,280. That’s how many emails I have in my inbox right now. Some of you probably have even more. Every day, I receive a ton of emails and feel I am required to respond to every single one, and quickly. But on vacation in November I inadvertently had an experience that freed me from my email monster. With the new year starting, I’m trying an experiment to see if I can maintain that freedom.
My Email Monster
I have four primary email accounts:
- An internal work email for people to whom I gave my email address.
- An external work email that I list on our About page for anyone to contact me.
- A personal email for friends and family.
- A newsletter and other subscriptions email.
All of these are “real” in that they are set up on my phone and I check them on my computer.
Here are my four issues with my email monster:
- Addiction: I don’t have an addictive personality: I rarely drink, have never smoked, and don’t enjoy gambling. But checking my email is clearly an addiction. Any moment I have a break, I feel the urge to reach for my phone and check my email. It’s often the first thing I do in the morning and the last thing I do at night.
- Distraction: Studies have shown that the “Ding!” announcing new messages makes you stupid. Long ago, I turned off sound and other such notifications. But I still have my email open on my computer and find myself, while in the flow of writing a blog post or analyzing our budget, easily getting distracted by an incoming email.
- Duplication: I check my emails when I wake up, when I get in the car, when I arrive at the office, then check it a million times in the office, and check it various times in the evening right up until I’m going to sleep. Since I often can’t deal with those emails at that moment, I end up reading the same emails (or at least scanning their headers) over and over again.
- Devaluation: Time is one of the most valuable resources we have for our work and in our life. Managing your time (or, some would argue, managing your energy) is critical. Responding to emails is rarely the most important thing to be doing, and often not even the most urgent.
A friend of mine had a new executive start at his company, and he commented on how this executive moved mountains. She kicked off large projects and made things happen that people couldn’t get traction on for months. How? She didn’t read her emails.
Yes, she was smart, strategic, ambitious—but she also focused on key projects and not on replying to emails.
When I look back at the last year, it scares me to think how much time I spent replying to emails rather than moving mountains.
My Vacation Insight
When I left on vacation I set an out of office message that said I’m on vacation and not checking emails until I return and provided some options and contacts for people if they needed a reply. But (in part due to my email addiction) I still checked my email on my phone every day.
However, and this was the key thing: I felt no urgency to reply.
If something was truly urgent and important, I would reply. If not, I could simply ignore it. My auto-responder had set the expectation that I wasn’t going to be available. If it was urgent and important, they could contact someone on my team. If not, their email would just vaporize.
I started to wonder: What would work be like if I always felt this way?
How to Manage Your Inbox, A.K.A Taming My Email Monster
Here is my three step plan to attack my email monster in the new year:
- Start Clean: I’m moving my email prior to January 1st into an archived mailbox. I can still search for those emails if I need to find something, but they don’t end up being this perpetual, never-ending scrolling weight. Realistically, if the email is two months old, I’m not going to deal with it.
- Check Once: Ideally I will only actually read my email once per day, toward the end of the day. However if I do check my email multiple times, I don’t want to re-read the same emails. I have started using Mailbox on my Mac and iPhone. One of my favorite features is “Snooze to Desktop.” If I’m not going to deal with an email immediately, I’ll snooze it to my computer where I am more likely to be able to deal with it.
- Permanently Out of Office: I am setting up an out of office-style auto-responder. It says the truth—that I’m in the office and checking email but that I won’t necessarily reply. Here is the exact text:
Thanks for your email! Since I receive a lot of email (as probably do you), I’m trying an experiment to tame the email monster. You can read about my experiment here: https://www.backblaze.com/blog/my-permanent-out-of-office-email/
I’m checking email once per day and will reply if appropriate, but here are some quick common answers:
- Recruiters & Software/QA Outsourcing companies => thanks, but we’re not interested.
- Customers with questions => Please email or chat with our support team first. If it’s been more than 1 business day and you’re unable to resolve your issue with our team, please reply to this email.
- VC interested in finding out more about Backblaze => We’re not currently looking for funding, but please read my 2014 Year in Review and try the Backblaze service for now!
- Advertising & Sponsorship Requests => sorry, but we’re going to pass.
Please don’t add me to your newsletter or any other automated mailing.
Something else? I’ll see your email and reply if it makes sense.
Again, thanks for reaching out and hope you understand that I’m thrilled to hear from you, but need to un-monster my email ;-)
So that’s my plan. New Year’s Resolutions typically don’t last through January 2nd. I’ll give this a try for one month and report back. Perhaps it’ll stick forever?
In the mean time, how do you manage your email?