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A recent study says the average worker receives 304 business emails a week. The average employee checks their email 36 times an hour, and 80% of workers simply resort to working with their inbox open all the time. Thereafter, it takes them around 16 minutes to refocus.
We live in a world full of different ideas, people and businesses all vying for our attention. Nearly every app, website and company wants the same thing: your email address. This has turned our inboxes into a battleground between time-sensitive emails, valuable information and occasionally fun but useless messages.
For entrepreneurs, effective communication is vital to the success and livelihood of your business. Receiving a torrent of emails is the new normal. Trying to read each one might feel like trying to drink water out of a fire hose.
Productivity expert Merlin Mann saw this coming in 2006 when he coined the term “inbox zero.” Some have erroneously thought this to be advocacy for constantly checking and going through your emails every time you hear that distinctive ping. But according to Mann, the zero isn’t about reducing the number of emails in your inbox, but the amount of time your brain is in your inbox.
Let’s look at how to reduce the stress brought on by the near-constant onslaught of emails in our modern world.
1. Create a system
The goal of “inbox zero” is to increase productivity. There are few more deadly productivity killers than the practice of constantly checking and replying to emails all throughout the day.
An estimated 62% of all emails are unimportant. Therefore, increasing productivity is a matter of reducing the amount of time you spend sifting through the unimportant. Creating a system for how and when you view your emails is crucial.
Set specific times that you view emails. Perhaps once at 8 a.m., once again at noon and one more time at 4 p.m. You could even designate certain contacts as VIPs to ensure that you receive their critical email ping at whatever time of day it comes in.
As Stephen Covey wrote, “The key is not to prioritize what’s on your schedule, but to schedule your priorities.”
No one knows better what your priorities are than you do. The average worker spends 28% of the workweek reading and responding to emails. As you peruse your emails at those designated times, take note of important emails that require your instant approval or sign-off, and those heftier emails that require thoughtful input and analysis. More on those later.
But then there are the emails scheduling meetings, sending promotional content or simply cc’ing you in. Either move them to another folder, delegate them to your secretary or just delete them. Make the firm decision. Differentiate between what deserves your attention and what is stealing it away. In that same vein, unsubscribing from useless newsletters can make a world of difference.
“It’s not enough to be busy; so are the ants,” says Henry David Thoreau. “The question is: What are we busy about?”
Effective communication boosts productivity. When emails have to consume your time, ensure that it’s worth it.
As we’ve already established, the majority of emails aren’t worth your time. Some are important but don’t need to take up much of your time. But there are a few that demand and deserve your attention. You can usually tell when you receive it. Instead of allowing that sinking feeling to settle and dominate your thinking all day, move them into a designated folder for your most important emails. Reply to them when you can dedicate the mental bandwidth they desire and deserve.
And remember what Dwight D. Eisenhower said, “What is important is seldom urgent, and what is urgent is seldom important.”
4. Eliminate waste
I’ve alluded to this already, but here it is plainly: Many newsletters and subscriptions are a waste of time. It’ll take a while initially to achieve it, but going through your inbox and unsubscribing from useless newsletters will go a long way in decluttering your inbox.
One useful way of ensuring that your important mailbox remains unsullied would be to create a spam email address to ensure that all your spur-of-the-moment sign-up emails are redirected to an unimportant email address. An estimated 245 billion emails are sent every day. Make sure you only have to deal with the important ones.
5. Be flexible
“Inbox Zero” is about reducing mental clutter and stress to increase productivity. But only you know what optimum productivity looks like in relation to your business. If the quest to declutter becomes a drain on productivity, then it’s just as bad as a packed mailbox.
Don’t obsess over the minutiae. Instead, create good habits that allow you to be flexible. Create your own schedule, set of labels, criteria for delegation and deletion, and inbox management system that allows you to focus on productivity, eliminate pressure and a false sense of urgency. Set goals for yourself and for your business.
Follow these five tips, and you’ll be well on your way to focusing on the most high-priority tasks, staying organized and managing your mail efficiently. And most importantly, you’ll reduce the amount of time your brain is in your inbox so it can be on other, more important things.