How to Tame Your Email Inbox

How to Tame Your Email Inbox5 Tips to Lowering Your Email Stress

We at Tapwage are very fortunate that we work for a startup. We can use instant messaging and Slack to our hearts content. But even so — in our past lives and our current — email can be stressful. McKinsey estimated that nearly 30% of the average work week was spent answering email. And this doesn’t even count all the time wasted filing or deleting email, stressing about it, and watching it pile up in your mailbox. There are days when it feels like we could have just read the entire Game of Thrones series (six heavy books and counting) instead of wading through our email. Similar in length, but much more satisfying.

It always feels like people have the standard two tips when it comes to dealing with email. 1) Don’t check it as often and 2) Use our new email tool that will make your life easier (it doesn’t. Remember Google Wave?).

The Tapwage 5-point Email Plan

  1. The first question to ask when you get an email is “Do I need to respond to this right now”. If you don’t, don’t respond. Many situations via email will just sort themselves out over the course of the day.

  2. Then ask yourself — do I need to respond to this via email? If you can use the phone, use it. If you can use instant message, use that. Use the appropriate medium for the appropriate message. Email is an excellent tool for keeping long term, easy-to-find records of conversation trails. It’s less useful for quick responses that are meant to be discarded, or for real time conversations. Getting those conversations off email will save you a ton of time later on.

  3. Let group conversations die a natural death. We are sure you have had your share of long, group email chains that only seem to get longer. More people get added, more useless comments get made. Let those threads die. Responding to those chains is just kindling for the sad fire that is wasting everyones time. If your input is needed, where possible, suggest a short group call to resolve the issue rather than doing it via email.

  4. The less you send, the less you get. Every time you send an email, ask yourself if it’s absolutely necessary and if so, is it absolutely necessary that it be communicated via email. Sometimes, it’s easier to note it down, and just bring it up along with other things you mean to bring up, when you meet or speak to the person next. Emails beget emails, so if you want to receive less, stop sending as many.

  5. This is our favorite. Put a ceiling on the number of internal emails you send in a day. In our prior roles, we capped our “non-client” emails at 20 per day. Bring that number down gradually. This forces you to really think about the email we were sending. Now the “non-client” is an important distinction. Perhaps you don’t have a client but you have an important set of regular internal emails you send. Designate the group of critical emails and then cap the set of non-critical emails. Every night, go to your sent folder and count the number of emails you sent. The less you send, the less you will receive.

And what about the long emails you mean to write but never get to. That can cause so much stress too. One of our favorite podcasts, ReplyAll by Gimlet Media proposed an “Email Debt Forgiveness Day”, a magical day that lets you deal with long-forgotten emails without any apologies or explanations for time lapsed.

Maybe the 2 hours of email time that you save every day can be better spent reading, or thinking, or with your family. Or perhaps, you can spend it on Tapwage looking for your next job. Head to our home page for our curated job channels, or other articles you might find helpful as you navigate your week.

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Advice Annie is a team of Tapwage writers and guest contributors who help answer career and workplace questions

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