Emails come a close second to our phone as a major time and energy drain. We’ve come to see email as essential to business life.
But British inventor James Dyson believes emails are a waste of time and he says he receives and sends just six emails a day. In fact, he banned his staff from writing memos 30 years ago, and the ban includes emailing internal memos. Instead, new employees are given notebooks and pencils for meetings. And he encourages talking in the office!
It’s something I agree with. If something is important, people will come and find your or pick up the phone.
Emails are often a lame excuse for looking busy and trying to impress others, for pretending to work (what I call action illusion), and wasting your own and others’ time. It why in my online course, How to Make Time for What Really Matters, I spend a whole module looking at email management.
So how can you follow in James Dyson’s freshly vacuumed tracks and read just six emails per day?
Here are my 7 top tips to help you escape the email vortex and take back control of your time…
1. Realise that there’s no such thing as an urgent email
- Let’s start by debunking the most common myth — that there is something important or urgent in that email. There’s not. There is literally No Such Thing As An Urgent Email.
- Emails by their very nature are non-urgent messages.
- If something is urgent, the person will pick up the phone. Or walk over to your desk! So you know by its nature that an email does not require an immediate response. Think about it this way: how many emails have you ever missed an email that has cost you money or happiness, and if you can think of some, offset this against the years of your live you’d get back by freeing yourself from email addiction.
2. Keep your inbox as empty as possible
- The first step to achieve this, is to use filters and be selective about the emails you read.
- Have separate email accounts for home and work, that way you won’t get distracted by that holiday banter or distracting jokes.
- Then set good filters for junk mail, or stuff you either know is important, for example all emails that come form your boss, can go into a special folder. Then, select emails to read based on their title. You need to be ruthless about it.
3. Think: who’s in control — you or your email? Time management is all about taking back control
- We get this sense of wanting to get on top of it, but emails are endless, you can never get ahead of it… so instead you need to focus on being in control of it. With emails, you can respond when you’re ready, so you’re in control. Taking back control over your emails – rather than letting them control you — is key to good time management.
- Researchers reckon it takes an average of 64 seconds to get back to work after reading an email. So rather than responding to every email as it comes in, set aside one or two blocks of time to read emails, everyday. 10am and 4pm are good choices.
- Whatever you do, don’t make it first thing, just like with phone use, you want to start your day focused on your urgent, not someone else’s, so resist the urge to put a chunk of time in for emails at the beginning of the day, use that first 1-2 hours for strategic planning and high-value work, then check your emails at 10 or 11am. This mid-morning check allows you time to respond same-day if need be, while 4pm does the same for the afternoon.
- If you feel compelled to reply instantly, set an auto-reply message that informs people of the times that you check emails and set the expectation for when they can expect a reply.
- Keep in mind — if it’s urgent you’ll be contacted directed — a missed call is more urgent than a missed email.
4. Good time management starts with the right mindset
- The actions follow on from how you think about yourself, others and your goals. When you’re in a reactive mindset of responding to others, of putting others’ needs first, emails will swamp you. But if you have a proactive mindset — one in which you’re the one deciding what’s important and what’s non-urgent – you’re in control.
- German psychologist Erich Fromm’s classic Be-Do-Have model illustrates how we should arrange our lives, although few do. To develop this mindset, you need to know what’s important to you — why you’re showing up at work. Most of us grasp at a certain life — a large house, a big car, status — then work back to actions that will give us those things. That way of living is highly stressful and inauthentic. But by building our lives around the cornerstones of a strong sense of self, by knowing what our values and beliefs are, our actions and what we subsequently gain — the “have” — leads on from what we are and what we do.
- So when James Dyson opens his emails what’s going through his head, on an unconscious level, will be:
“Is this email helping me achieve why I work and my current goals?”
If it’s not then it’s unlikely Dyson will pay it much attention. If it is — and not many emails should fall into this category — then it gets attention. When you’re in a reactive mindset of putting others’ needs first, emails will swamp you.
So think about what’s important to you, your urgent (this is covered in the prioritisation and time management system videos in my online course, How to Make Time for What Really Matters) so you should be clear on your important stuff — the point is to take this and apply it across the board. That’s were people go wrong. They know what’s important to them, but they let themselves get distracted by others, buy their phone or by their emails.
5. Remember the two-minute rule
Use this to decide if an email gets your attention. There are two question you need to ask yourself:
- Firstly: Is it my urgent?
- Secondly: Will it take less than two minutes to reply?
If the answer is yes to both questions, then do it. If not, you need to decide to either delegate it or defer it to a future time — you can refer to the time management system in module 4 of my time management online course, How to Make Time for What Really Matters
6. Bin or box your emails — don’t leave them in your inbox
Some emails you trash. Others you will save for reference. And there are others that can go in your “someday maybe file”. The point is that an email is filed and it’s out of sight — it’s not in your inbox. And this is important, as the goal is to have as few emails as possible in your inbox at any one time.
7. Don’t keep your email open
And finally, don’t keep your email open – close it. It will still be there when it’s time to check email again. Leaving your emails open is a huge distraction and it put others’ in the driving seat, dictating what your prioritises are.
Email management is one of the modules in my 11 module online time management course, How to Make Time for What Really Matters.
Marie Willis, course tutor and co-founder of Unchain Your Brain .org – online courses for managers and leaders.