In this 6th post on productivity, I want to talk with you about a tool that can help you if you use it wisely. If you don’t, it can dictate your life! I am talking about the dreaded tool known as email.
In his book, Do More Better, Tim Challies, offers a unique perspective on how so many people handle email poorly. He writes:
Imagine if you treated your actual, physical mailbox like you treat your email. Here’s how it would go.
You walk outside to check your mail and reach into your mailbox. Sure enough, you’ve got some new mail. You take out one of your letters, open it up, and begin to read it. You get about halfway through, realize it is not that interesting, stuff it back inside the envelop, and put it back in the mailbox muttering, “I’ll deal with this one later.” You open the next letter…and sure enough, your mailbox is soon crammed full of a combination of hundreds of unopened and unread letters plus hundreds of opened and read or partially read letters.
But it gets worse. You don’t just use your mailbox to receive and hold letters, but also to track your calendar items…you also use your mailbox as a task list, so you’ve got all kinds of post-it notes in there with your to-do items scrawled all over them.
But we aren’t done yet. Even though you feel guilty and kind of sick every time you open your mailbox, you still find yourself checking your mail constantly. Fifty or sixty times a day you stop whatever else you are doing, you venture down the driveway, and reach your hand inside to see if there is anything new.
It is absurd, right? Your life would be total chaos. And yet that is exactly how most people treat their email.
–Do More Better, 109-111
What a convicting description! I truly found myself there for years.
I have adapted some new rules concerning how to overcome email. Hope these can help!
Tips for Overcoming Email
- Close Your Email. I used to keep my email app up on my desktop and realized that every few minutes, someone or some organization was needing me. The constant pop ups were distracting me from whatever I needed to focus on at the moment. It would lead to numerous open applications and webpages all across my computer screen. This cluttered view was a great description of my chaotic mind. If you aren’t using email, close it.
- Turn Off Notifications. I have progressively removed more and more notifications on my phone. I found myself addicted to checking the phone constantly for new updates on online interactions. If you phone dings, buzzes, or lights up, each time you get an email from some marketing tactic, you will find yourself attached to your email. That means you can’t be with who you are supposed to be with and do what you are supposed to be doing.
- Schedule Times to Address Email. Select a few times during the day to check your email, and close it the rest of the time. Maybe you check it first thing at work and the last thing at work. I have known people who don’t check it first thing because it causes other people to set your agenda for the day.
- Create a Useable Folder System. Don’t have too many folders, but have enough that actually benefits you. For each email, if you need to store it, store it in a folder and not in your inbox. Get rid of the clutter! If you need to be reminded to check that folder for emails to deal with later, put it in your task management system so you won’t forget.
- Only Handle an Email Once. This one is hard to maintain, but try to only open an email once and deal with it right then and there. If it takes longer that you have at that moment, maybe you can store it in a folder. Some apps allow you to schedule it for later. When you log into your email, delete all the fluff immediately which brings a sense of closure. Respond to the emails that take a few seconds. Then deal with the more time-consuming ones.
- Bring Your Inbox to Zero at Least Once a Week. Every Friday, I get my email inbox to zero. It is a necessity. Once it is clean, I know that something else will enter in, but it helps me stay disciplined to answering everyone within a week and not getting overwhelmed with backdated information. Maybe you choose Tuesday and Friday or whatever, but choose one day to clean out your inbox completely! A place for everything!
Hope these help! Don’t let email take over your life.
- Disguising Laziness
- Learning Discipline
- Choosing Tools
- Organizing Projects
- Moderating Social Media
- Overcoming Email
Travis Agnew serves as the Lead Pastor of Rocky Creek Church in Greenville, SC. His most recent book is Distinctive Discipleship. He is married to Amanda and the father of two sons and one daughter. Travis graduated from North Greenville University with a B.A. in Christian Studies and earned his M.Div. and D.Min. from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, with his doctoral focus on family discipleship.