It's Email Debt Forgiveness Day! Here's how to never need it
Let’s all take a deep breath and tackle the most out of control part our lives: our inboxes.
It's waiting for you. That little red circle with a horrifyingly high count in it on that at the bottom corner of your phone... your emails are waiting.
Even the mere notification sound can cause our hearts to drop...another thing to do. Another reply to think about, maybe someone to let down, deny, or put off until we can better do the work we need to do to even form a reply. With a world of digital time wasters at the ready, we'll surf for anything to keep us from getting our work done, but, procrastination is not the answer, and you are not alone in your dread. Which is why April 30th has been declared Email Debt Forgiveness Day, a "get out of jail free card", where you can finally answer those long-unanswered emails without social scorn. This day is all well and good — a nice chance for you to finally respond to your mother's Thanksgiving e-card. But what happens the next day, and the rest of the year? It's time to break that vicious chain and employ some substantial and sustainable solutions to managing your emails and your life.
Say it with me, we have a problem
The first step is recognizing that, for something we hate, we sure seem to be addicted to it. Studies have shown that many workers start their day by checking their email in bed, the rate of emails sent and received have grown exponentially year after year and, most importantly, it could be destroying our health. Certainly we can make the argument that we're overworked in general and technology has made ourselves more accessible than ever (remember when you'd have to start up your desktop and modem to check your email?) and we're already at the beginning of corporations pumping the brakes to keep their employees sane. You may be so closely tied to it that you don't even realize it, but your e-mail relationship is unhealthy and it's time for a change.
If your email anxiety is stemming from the overwhelming potential of receiving emails, it may be best to not check for them all the time or have an automatic notification system. We've all gone through phases where we've checked for emails on a by-minute basis not to mention having our email page open at the ready for the entire work day. By checking so often, we stress ourselves out regardless of whether there are actually any new emails; we just continue to dread what's coming. The best way to regulate this is by scheduling your checking times. You can go easy on yourself and check once an hour or depending on your circumstance, down to just three times a day; say 9am, 12pm and 3pm. If you don't have the self control, you can make your phone do it for you.
Fall for folders
A lot of instant stress is created by having all your emails in one place; when you open your inbox you have a slew of different subjects all in one place. It's not only overwhelming but it's hard to focus on just one when you can actually see the other emails waiting to be taken care of. But many of us are not using folders to their full potential and they are key to controlling our email lives. Beyond your inbox, outbox, drafts and trash, you can create more folders and label them however you'd like, creating a bunch of organizing options to suit your needs. Of course you can organize by subject (work, personal, etc.), but you can also organize your emails by person (keep your mother's e-cards all in one place) and many mailboxes allow you to set up rules to have your emails automatically sorted and distributed into your your folders when they arrive. Most efficiently, you can sort your folders by immediacy; to deal with urgent emails now, semi-urgent ones by end of day and more flexible ones that can wait till you have some free time.
Create an alias address
We've all experienced the ruse of seeing 30 notifications only to realize 28 of them are from meaningless mailing lists we've signed up for. It's hard to walk out of a store nowadays without having to give your email address up for some "amazing deals", so why not a create an address just for that? It takes no time to create an email for those mailing lists and you can access it separately when you feel like it, without it clogging up your main inbox.
Respond, respond, respond
This may seem counterintuitive, but you can answer emails without necessarily "dealing" with them. There's nothing worse than an email gone unanswered, for both the sender and receiver, so if you know you can read over someone's email later that day or that week, email them back and say so. A quick "Thanks, I'll check this out and get back to you tomorrow" can be incredibly effective. It puts the sender at ease, knowing that you've acknowledged the email and plan on addressing it. It also creates a mini contract with yourself, helping you set a reasonable timeline and making sure you'll stick to it.
Do unto others
If you want to get better emails, perhaps you set the bar. Respect the time it takes for others to open and read your emails and do your best to limit it. Put the full subject or even the entire question (if possible) in the subject line (we all know one person who starts a work-related favour email with the subject "Hey!"). Additionally, in the body, don't be verbose; nobody wants to scroll through an opening paragraph of your pleasantries while on their phone in the bathroom. Get to the point, set the example and watch your email efficiency grow.
Remember: it's only email
No matter what course of action you choose to follow, never forget that it's just an email, not an emergency. Getting worked up over your inbox will just stress you out and, in reality, people can usually tolerate longer wait times than you think. Be upfront with your routine - if you only check your email 3 times a day, let people know, so they grow to accept and expect your speed. Never be afraid to keep it old school; if it was really an emergency, they'd call or come see you in person. Just because the rest of the world has their inbox on their back, doesn't mean you have to; a little patience never hurt anyone.
So use your Email Debt Forgiveness day to the fullest, get caught up on your lagging responses, but keep your inbox tidy from here on out.