Design your life to include more money, health and happiness with less stuff, space and energy.

Design your life to include more money, health and happiness with less stuff, space and energy.

5 Ways to Get Email Monkey Off Back and Put Him in a Cage

A recent article in Business Insider tells the tale of brothers John and Bert Jacobs, founders of the $100M “Life Is Good” t-shirt company. The brothers felt like they were being completely devoured by email. They write in their book “Life is Good,” “The time we spent daily just shoveling out our email inboxes was daunting. And we were going to bed at night feeling guilty and inadequate because we couldn’t get ahead. The more emails we sent out, the more flowed back in.” In a radical move, the two men ditched email…sorta. They actually delegated all of their email correspondences to other people in their organization. This act allowed them to step up their creative game and focus on high level business decisions rather than getting bogged down in putting out many small fires.

So I know what you’re thinking, because it’s what I’m thinking too: “Awesome! Two CEOs give their underlings all of their annoying, distracting emails. Good for them! I bet life is good. But I do not have any underlings. I am the underling and I can’t deal with my own email. Thanks for sharing.”

While most of us are likely not CEOs, the Jacobs’ experience can still be instructive. And though we might not be able to outsource our email responsibilities, we can, in all probability, find ways to liberate ourselves from asphyxiation by email (and for many of us, texts as well). Here are a five strategies that don’t include auto-responders: 

  1. Stop checking your email the first thing in the morning! For most of us, the morning is the best time to map out our day (if we don’t do it the day before). By checking email first thing in the morning, we start our days in reactive mode, playing whack-a-mole with our myriad responsibilities. By delaying our initial email check, we have space to create our day and decide how we want it to go. Don’t worry, all the fires in our inboxes will still be smouldering when we’re done planning. But chances are, the house will not burn down if we give ourselves 15-30 minutes to figure out what we want to do with the day first.
  2. Things can wait. I learned this concept from Tim Ferriss, who says there are few real emergencies, so we should create certain times to deal with email (aka “batching” email). Think about it. Most of us check our email all the time because we believe something important might be in one of the emails. But is this true? While many emails present things that need to be handled, often those things can be handled in their right time, which, in all probability, is not when the email comes in. Let’s say we’re writing something–a blog post, for example–and our boss asks us to send him a file. Unless that boss is boarding a plane in five minutes, he can, in all probability, wait. No one is going to die. Deals won’t fall through. It is probably a better idea to finish what we’re doing then send the file when ready. Studies actually show that multitasking makes us less productive and stupider. That’s right, when we bounce from thing to thing–writing a proposal to emailing to paying bills and so forth–we bring fewer IQ points to each one of those tasks than we would if we did each one from beginning to end.
  3. Slow the hell down. Have you ever emailed with someone who always responds to emails immediately? Or, worse yet, are you that person? Then one day, that person delays. One minute, two minutes, two hours…nothing. What the hell? Did I do something wrong? Here’s the deal: nothing’s wrong. She probably getting something to eat or do one of the million other things people do in the course of their day. The real problem is setting up an expectation of instantaneous responses. Along the lines of points #1 and #2, sometimes it’s not the right time to respond. It’s okay to respond when it works unless it’s an emergency…and it’s almost never an emergency.
  4. Turn off push notifications on your phone. This is one I don’t practice, but boy does it make sense. Those insidious banners, rings and buzzes on our phone are begging to take us out of the moment and task at hand. Screw em. They can wait. What we’re doing–even if we’re doing nothing–is probably more important.
  5. Create safe spaces from email and texts. At the dinner table, during weekends, in bed–create places and times when you cannot be reached any way other than phone. It’s vital we ensure our days include times when we cannot be reached. I don’t know about you, but anyone who would relay important information has my phone number. So if someone important really needs to relay important information, he or she will call.

If you have other strategies, please share in comments section (i.e. don’t email me ;-).