Email has reached into the everyday life of almost every profession. While I have been using it since the 80’s, its usage has accelerated enough to make it an issue even to us who are used to it since long.
There is research that shows that we use a lot of time reading email. It may be waste.
Here is a suggested personal policy for handling you email.
The first recommendation is to read mail at specific times only and not have an alarm whenever a mail arrives. You’ve probably heard it before. I think it might be a good idea if it suits you. But whenever you read email, you should do it efficently.
1. It is my strongest recommendation to have your inbox empty. If not, it will be a constant noice of unread, half-read or read mails every time you look in your inbox. It costs brain energy and slows you down.
2. Get yourself a todo-list. Use paper, use a email folder, use a spreadsheet or specific tool like Todoist. But do not use your inbox as a todo-list. It is an inbox. Would you put all documents in one pile because they all are made of paper?
Assign dates to all todo items so you can take them in good order. Keep separate lists for private matters and business so you can show the latter for co-workers and the former for your spouse.
3. Classify every email immediatley. A mail may typically be a request, information or junk. Act according to the classification. You may have another classification than mine, the important thing is to have one.
If it is a request to do something, put it on your todo-list or reject it by answering the email. Then delete the email or put it in a folder, should there be any information in it for the task.
If it is a request to attend a meeting, note everything needed in you calendar and delete the email. Or reject it as above.
If it is information that you really need to read, put a note in your todo-list that you should read it. Remember to note the date when you plan to have it done. Move the email to a folder, fit for the purpose.
If it is information that you need to track, such as updates on an ongoing process with several steps, move the email to folder that has a special meaning to you, namely "everything here should be deleted when finished".
If it is junk or information you do not need, delete the email without opening it. That’s the safest thing to do.
So there you go, a policy for handling you inbox. Empty inbox, a todo-list and classify immediatley. By doing this, reading email will not eat up your day.