I meet enough frazzled business people to know that email and unproductive meetings are the two biggest time wasters in the workplace.  Of the two, email is easily the most damaging, because it is the source of so much stress.  Irrelevant, poorly run meetings are at least a chance for a breather – a cup of coffee and time to tune out and think about what’s for dinner.  Time for some R&R?  Easy – organise yourself a meeting!

No, email is the one to watch out for.  People let it overwhelm them, to the extent that they never stop checking them.  Because having a clear inbox is for so many of us a sign that we are on top of things, we never get off the hamster wheel:


According to research quoted by Jocelyn Glei in her book “Unsubscribe:  How to Kill Email Anxiety, Avoid Distraction and Get Real Work Done”, there is a clear link between spending time on email and stress.  “In other words”, says Glei, “the more frequently we check our email, the more frazzled we feel.”

So here are 5 tips to help you to not become another member of the email victims club:

  1.  Don’t check them so often.  Durrrr.  If you check them every 3 minutes, (apparently we check them 77 times a day), try doing it once every hour.  Then move to 4 times per day and so on.  You will be able to concentrate on what you are doing (it takes 64 seconds to get back into what you were doing, so when you add yet another spam email to your block sender folder, it costs you over one minute).  You will discover that the really urgent emails turn into phone calls, less urgent ones are fine with a less immediate response, and the time wasting ones you can kill off in bursts of email slashing and burning on the train home from work.
  2. Turn off notifications.  Put the gadget out of sight and out of mind.  Turn off Outlook when you’re not using it.  Turn the screen away.  Turn off the pings.  YOU decide when to allow it to intrude, not the other way round.
  3. Manage expectations.  Tell your colleagues you only look at email 4 times per day.  If they really need a response, pick up the phone or come and talk to you (just like the good old days).
  4. Use the technology.  Some emails don’t need your attention now, but they will need it later.  Use Outlook Calendar or some other app to file the email in the appropriate date and time for when you do need to deal with it.
  5. Reduce the noise.  Download “Unsubscribe for Gmail” app (free, iTunes) and it lets you unsubscribe with one quick swipe.  Joyous!

Email is never going to go away, and it is always going to exercise an inappropriate amount of influence in our lives.  We can however manage it better and reduce its impact.

What techniques do you use to help you cope?