TECHNIQUE 1: BATCHING
Read and respond to your emails only twice a day. To get started, monitor your emails for one day without responding to get a picture of when your inbox is busiest. Log into your account once every hour, record how many emails are in your inbox, and note the two hours of the day when your inbox is most active.
Then, create a schedule around your peak hours, and only check your email at those times:
TECHNIQUE 2: O.H.I.O (ONLY HOLD IT ONCE)
Eric Schmidt uses the O.H.I.O. (“Only Hold It Once”) method. This means Schmidt immediately responds to emails that take less than two minutes, so he’s not revisiting small tasks multiple times.
For example, if you have an email from a prospect asking to confirm a meeting time, respond to it now. But if you get an email with a long series of questions, finish what you’re working on now before you switch gears.
TECHNIQUE 3: THE 3-FOLDER EMAIL SYSTEM
It’s no surprise the founder of Lifehacker, Gina Trapana, has a system in place to minimize email as a disruptive force. Use her 3-Folder Email System to better categorize your emails, and by extension, your to- do list.
The “Follow up” folder is for emails that require a reply; “Hold” is for messages to be handled in the future; and “Archive” is for emails that don’t need a response.
TECHNIQUE 4: THE <50, <24 RULE
Don’t leave work until your inbox has less than 50 emails.
It’s hard to fathom what a billion dollars really looks like, and thus, it’s hard to say what you’d do with that kind of money if you had it. Same goes for your inbox. It’s hard to get your arms around an inbox with 1,000 emails in it.
To keep your inbox under control, it has to feel psychologically manageable. So put yourself on a 30-day challenge in which for 30 days, you don’t leave work until your inbox has less than 50 emails (that’s one page in a Gmail inbox), and everyone has received a response in less than 24 hours (business days — if you get an email on a weekend, reply Monday).
After 30 days, you’ll not only be caught up if you started as a laggard, but you’ll never end a day or start a morning feeling like your inbox is a beast that cannot possible be tamed. The time you spend on email management will decrease if you force yourself to keep the volume under a certain threshold on a daily basis.
TECHNIQUE 5: ONE MONTH OF UNSUBSCRIBES
For one full month, unsubscribe from email lists and notifications with ruthless abandon. That should provide enough time for you to get to all of the email lists you’re on and make a decision to keep, or unsubscribe.
No archiving or deleting just to clear it out — every email you see, for one month, you must make a decision on whether to keep getting that email going forward, or not.
Unsubscribe from email lists and notifications with ruthless abandon.
Work in 90-minute sprints, punctuated by 15-10 minutes of “rest period” in your email inbox.
Physiologist Nathaniel Kleitman, the pioneering sleep researcher who co-discovered REM sleep, is also well known for observing that humans alternate progressively between light and deep sleep in 90-minute periods. According to a Harvard Business Review article by Tony Schwartz, Kleitman found that we operate by that same 90-minute rhythm during the day by moving progressively through periods of higher and lower alertness.
An application called Unroll.me can help you combine all the clutter you receive on a daily basis.
This is great for consolidating all those newsletters you still want to get, but don’t want to have to keep organizing.
TECHNIQUE 6: SPRINT AND REST
After working at high intensity for more than 90 minutes, we begin relying on stress hormones for energy. The result: Our prefrontal cortex starts to shut down and we start losing our ability to think clearly and reflectively. You can better manage your time at work by respecting the human
need for rhythmic pulses of rest and renewal, and schedule time for low-stress tasks like email triage and inbox management for after those 90-minute periods of active work that require high levels of alertness.
Schedule time for low-stress tasks like email triage and inbox management.
TECHNIQUE 7: DUHIGG’S CUES AND REWARDS
Every time you have an urge and you do something about it, the reward you get from it (whether it’s a tobacco high from smoking or the satisfaction of knowing you’re at inbox zero) creates a neurological pathway in your brain. When you repeat that action and experience the same reward again, that neurological pathway gets a little bit thicker; and the next time, even thicker. The thicker that pathway gets, the easier it is for impulses to travel down it.
So when you try to extinguish a habit completely — like, say, checking your email constantly — you’re actually trying to use willpower to destroy a neural pathway. So if you’re having trouble eliminating that email-checking habit, here’s what Charles Duhigg suggests you do:
- Diagnose the reward you get from doing that habit
- Replace your habit with an activity that’s both triggered by the old cue and delivers the old reward, or a version of it.
- Diagnose the “cue” or the urge that sets the habit
So if you have a bad habit of checking your email every 30 minutes, first, diagnose the cue. Ask yourself questions like: What time is it when you feel the urge to check email? Where are you? Who else is around? What were you doing right before? Ah, that’s it! You realize it’s become a habit for you to check email right after you check Facebook because they’re next to each other in your bookmark bar.
Now, diagnose the reward. What craving does reading email satisfy? Maybe it’s the satisfaction of knowing nothing in the inbox is bold, and thus no emergencies could be in there for you to discover later. Figure out what satisfies you about that habit, and then replace it with something that will make you more productive. In this case, I might set up an autoresponder letting people know I’ll respond to emails in less than 24 hours, but they can reach me by phone for time-sensitive emergencies.
TECHNIQUE 8: SCAN-BLOCK-ASK
Email is a very common and important form of communication
for many workers, so bypassing it altogether until you’ve worked through your own to-do list isn’t always feasible. This is where the Scan-Block-Ask system comes into play:
- SCAN your inbox for urgent and important items in the morning, then close your inbox and open your actual to-do list.
- BLOCK time on your calendar for processing email. Schedule appointments at times that make sense for you each day. Sometimes you’ll get through your inbox in 30 minutes, and other times it will take longer. And if you ever get stuck “doing email”.
- ASK yourself if it’s the best use of your time right now. Most of the time the answer will be no. This process allows you to put email in the place on your to-do list.
TECHNIQUE 9: INBOX TRIAGE
You may have heard the word “triage” as it relates to the emergency room, but here’s a brief history lesson. The concept of medical triage was developed during Napoleonic Wars by Napoleon’s chief surgeon, Dominique Jean Larrey. He came up with the process to determine the priority of wounded patients’ treatment based on their condition.
Patients were grouped into three categories:
- Those who are likely to die, regardless of what care they received
- Those who are likely to live, regardless of what care they received
- Those for whom immediate care might make a positive di erence in outcome
The “die” patients would be given morphine and made as comfortable as possible. The “live” patients would be quickly stitched up, cleaned up, and moved out. This allowed the doctors to spend the bulk of their time to work on difficult cases and really save people.
As with injured patients, you can categorize and respond to your emails in a similar way:
- Those that should be deleted/archived in bulk (the “die” bucket). Ex: Promotional emails and social notifications.
- Those that should be dealt with quickly (the “stitch up and move on” bucket). Ex: A calendar invite that you simply need to RSVP to or an email that you can respond to briefly and without further research.
- Those that require actual work. Ex: A message from a client or colleague that will require information gathering, a long-form response, or other substantial work.
These techniques were sourced from HubSpot