Alarm goes off - open phone and check email.
A lull in a conversation - open phone and check email.
Perused Facebook, Instagram or Snapchat, now check email.
If any of these sounds familiar, then email is controlling your life in ways that are actually detrimental to your happiness as well as your professional success.
Regardless of it you're a business owner, veterinarian, pet sitter, rescue/shelter worker, or any other kind of professional, email will feel like the most important communication portal in your world. It funnels in opportunities, emergencies, good news, bad news, praise, and demands. The roller coaster of anticipation prior to opening it is a huge indication of how much it is controlling your life. The "need" to check it, is also an indication that something is wrong.
Email is a tool. It is a modern tool for communication that allows messages to be sent and received at any time, day or night. Because of the availability of these communications, it is easy to get lost in instant gratification of receiving good news, or clearing out a bunch of messages. What we don't realize is that email is also a direct avenue into our personal selves. One that leaves us very vulnerable. When we have a face to face conversation we can escape. We can walk away. On a phone we can hang up. In either case it is over. With email (as well as text and social media) the message is static. It is not moving unless it is deleted and even then it can usually be fished out of the trash. It remains, staring at you, following you around in your device, leaving a semi permanent mark on you until you address it and create finality and closure.
Ignored, email turns into a "tell tale heart" knocking from inside your device. Beckoning you to open it and check. Guilting you into thinking the world will come to an end, a life is on the line, or someone will be angry or disappointed in you, if you don't open it immediately. Most of the time it will be nothing. A few ads or newsletters, a client or two with a questions, and some inquires most likely. But now you're committed. You can't leave them alone in there. If you do, part of your mind will be obsessing about them until you finally answer them.
The effect email has on your happiness is measurable. But the effect it is having on professional success is real as well. When you make yourself accessible at all times, you actually lessen the respect and value a client has for you. By being less accessible you show your client that the time they get with you is only about them. You're not splitting your attention with something else.
The hard truth is that by being something to everyone you are nothing to anyone, especially yourself. The reason being that you are stretched too thin to be any good to anyone. You can't be accessible 24/7 to everyone and be successful. The key to defeating the email monster controlling your life is discipline, moderation, and some tools.
Schedule your email as if it were a meeting or a client. Give it a window or two everyday but be strict about how long each segment of time will last. For instance my email it traditionally checked from 9-10:30am and again from 4-6pm. The only time I shift this is if I have an event that day and need to shift around my commitments. My email is my commitment to the outside world, so I will reschedule it, but I will not let it rule my scheduling. It gets the same priority as as any other business activity.
Receive something distressing or just complicated? Save it for later or Boomerang (About Boomerang in a moment) it until your next email window. Fresh eye usually lead to better answers. Never reply with emotion attached to it. You won't come off professional and likely you'll regret whatever you said later.
When I do have to shift things I rely on Boomerang to ensure my messages still get to the client at the time they usually would. Consistently communicating with a client gives them the subtle reminders that you will get back to them and when you expect your reply. It also brings messages back to my inbox if they don't get replies after a certain amount of time allowing me to follow up. Boomerang has saved me hours of frustration. Check it out!
The final key to inbox sanity is committing to a system that leaves you feeling closure every time you close the app or window. This is only obtained by leaving your inbox empty. Zero new messages, zero read messages. To obtain this I recommend these steps:
- Create folders for Read Later, Sort/File, Waiting For Action (or just use Boomerang), and Office Day. I also have folders for anything I don't want to delete, so clients, classes, trials, advertising etc, but the first ones mentioned are key to email happiness.
- When you open your email, first skim for everything you can delete and do so.
- Move anything that is reference material, newsletters and things you can put off to read later and sort/file.
- Answer all the remaining emails and then file them too. If it's waiting on a reply put it in the Waiting for Action folder or use Boomerang to bring it back to your inbox. If something is meant for my office day, it goes in there.
- Now gaze at your clean inbox and close it till your next scheduled time.
- Once a week sort through your sort/file and if you're bored go through your read later folder.
- Bask in the peace of mind.
Commit to it!
Don't let email control your thoughts, mood and actions. Don't let it rob you of joy, interactions with people, or free time. Email with boundaries keeps you safe and informs the world of how accessible you are. Remember - a limited resource is more respected than an unlimited one.