On average, you spend thirteen hours a week checking your email inbox — gasp alert. I want you to check your tabs, and look for your little Gmail notification on your top screen. Or maybe you are one of those Mail people who like to use native apps on your laptop.
Either way, I bet you have your emails somewhat open in the background whilst reading it. Or you just swiped close your email app on your phone.
The truth is, we spend around 28% of our time in the office in our inboxes, and 40% of us check work emails at least five times a day outside of working hours.
Jocelyn K. Glei, author of “Unsubscribe: How to Kill Email Anxiety, Avoid Distractions and Get Real Work Done” says that while checking emails throughout the day may make you feel productive, the opposite is true.
Sanam Hafeez, a New York-based psychologist and an adjunct associate professor at Columbia University’s Teachers College, says “work-life imbalance” is another driver of burnout. “Most people used to have 9-to-5 jobs, and people took one hour for lunch outside of the office,” she says.
Since most small businesses pretty much run on email, our email inbox is now full of everything and anything including receipts, proposals and quick messages.
“Before the internet and cellphones and email, people could actually go on vacation or take a sick day and be officially disconnected,” she says. “Now there is an expectation that people must be connected to work 24/7 no matter where they are in the world.” (the Great Burnout Debate)
No matter how hard you work at it, sometimes emails just creep back in your inbox. You may feel like you are alone in this, but you are not.
No matter who you are, or whether you work as a writer, freelancer, business owner or employee. The struggle to be on top of your emails is real.
Does this sound familiar?
The truth is, we spend around 28% of our time in the office in our email inbox, and 40% of us check work emails at least five times a day outside of working hours (Harvard Business Review)
There are multiple techniques you can use to reclaim your email time (and lower your anxiety levels). Regardless of whichever technique you may choose, you have to start with one important question (yes, I love asking questions).
What boundaries do you want to set for yourself? Boundaries are something I advocate for virtually anything, especially when it comes to your work environment.
We often set boundaries for co-workers, bosses, and clients, however, we struggle to do the same for our emails.
Most of the time the most pressure comes from ourselves: “I started full time in my business just over a year ago and as time has gone on my inbox has gotten crazier and crazier.” shared entrepreneur Cam Dempster. “I am one of those people who like to have 0 unread messages, and consequently, I used to put a lot of pressure to reply to all emails as they came in and make sure my inbox was empty by the end of each day. Over the past 6 months, I’ve been putting in place practices to remove that stress”.
Following those three things, although simple, can make a huge difference to your inbox and concurrent stress levels.
If you are a type-A personality, you may just want to let that whole ‘0 message inbox’ thing go — that comes from a more holistic mindful practice.
What are boundaries anyway?
“Daring to set boundaries is about having the courage to love ourselves, even when we risk disappointing others.” — Brene Brown
The first step to having a better relationship with your email inbox is to acknowledge that you have the power to organise your “email time”.
You can schedule emails, block time to engage with people, or outsource to a VA (virtual assistant). Managing your time better means scheduling time to treat your emails as a task that needs completing. Ask yourself what boundaries have you set in place and which boundaries you wish to create when it comes to your inbox and dealing with whatever comes your way.
Most times we are our worst enemies when it comes to tackling our inbox. One of the trickiest things to set, when it comes to emails, is boundaries.
Since it’s really hard to have a face-to-face conversation with people nowadays we have to find other ways to communicate — and emails have almost become the best way to converse with teammates and clients alike. One way to do harness the urge to hit reply is making sure you promptly address overdue emails.
What can you do about stressful emails?
As well as positive emails and celebratory GIFS, we may occasionally find some “not so positive” emails lurking in our inboxes.
One email could truly make or break our day, especially if we check our emails more than three times per day (guilty as charged). First, some prep. If you open a stressful email, make sure you take some time before responding.
Rachel Evans has a secret weapon she keeps on her desk as a reset button:
“I keep my favourite essential oil blend on my desk for moments of stress; the blend is called Peace and contains lavender and frankincense among other things, which reduce stress. If I receive a horrible email and I can feel myself being affected by it, then I open the bottle and take a deep inhale and exhale. The oils have a physiological effect, but also it gives me a moment to disconnect from what is happening and then I can reappraise the situation when I go back to my inbox.”
Another trick is to make time to deal with your emails, just like you’d do with meetings. You will be surprised at how much time you can gain if you plan to check your emails instead of reacting to every message.
You probably receive dozens or hundreds of emails every day. However, you don’t have to respond to each one of them as and when they hit your inbox.
This is even more important with stressful emails. Good management is key, as well as taking the time to respond carefully:
“One of the most important things when receiving a stressful email is not to avoid a response. No one wants a cloud of negativity hanging over their heads for the remainder of the day. Plus, if you’ve already addressed the situation, then you are less likely to teeter back and forth on how you feel about the email” adds Angela Ash from Flow SEO. “Simply write back, and then take responsibility for the issue or provide an explanation of what went wrong. Sometimes, the best you can say is, I’m so sorry that you feel that way or that you’ve had a bad experience and move on.”
Most of my team nowadays clearly state when they are online and on emails by writing it in their signature. This way people know when to expect a response to a question — especially in cases their email does not fall under an urgent matter.
Another option is setting up an auto-responder, even if that could annoy people more than anything, especially in the long run. Whether you create an autoresponder or edit your signature, managing people’s expectations is part of the process.
Is it really a matter of mindset?
“We would rarely waste time if it were earned.” ― Mokokoma Mokhonoana
Overall, like most things in business, you can manage your email inbox or let them dictate your schedule. In order to have the right mindset to deal with stressful emails, you need to start being MINDFUL about your emails.
You want to make sure you make time for your emails when you are focused and in the right state of mind. This may even mean deleting your email app from your phone, even if just for a short period of time.
Once you create the space for your emails, the magic truly unfolds.
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My name is Fab Giovanetti and I am a writer, author, marketing consultant, founder of the Creative Impact Group and professional troublemaker. I help people grow their online audience and monetise their content and unleash their potentials as creatives.