Remember in that movie Sleepless in Seattle when Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks got all excited when their computer announced “you’ve got mail”? Okay so it was a romantic email they were expecting, but they were still jazzed about getting an email. That was in 1993. Now, in 2015 (yikes, did that movie really come out more than 20 years ago??), most of us feel buried under our email, with no end in sight.
We need a new strategy. Email is extremely distracting and MUST be managed somehow or it will dramatically decrease productivity. If I were doing now what I instinctually have always done, which is aim to get my in-box to zero at all times, I would not have recently finished my book (Freelance Medical Writing-Books 1-6: Make a 6-Figure Income and Work From Home Using Your Scientific/Medical Background). I would still be spending my entire day attending to all the email clamoring for my “immediate” attention. I have heard it said that an in-box is a tool for organizing other people’s agendas. It’s true, and I want to remain the boss of my time.
I attribute my radical change in attitude to a book I recently read called The ONE Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results by Gary Keller. It’s the first book I’ve read that has given me permission to not immediately answer every single email that comes in. My focus now is to give dedicated blocks of time to creative, high-value projects (such as finishing my book and my new podcast on the AMA Manual of Style, GrammarStyle—available in iTunes).
At the very least, I would recommend checking email no more than once per hour. Very few emails require more immediate attention than that. Train your friends, family members, and employees with urgent questions to text you rather than sending an email. I also have a “to respond” folder where I put emails that require a response at some point, but not immediately.
I have made peace with the idea that I cannot respond to every email I get. Requests for my time; requests about getting into medical writing; requests about this, that, and the other, none of which will add anything to my life or to the bottom line of my business. That said, I have put together some form responses using a program called Phase Express (for Windows) or TextExpander (for Mac), where with one click of a button, I can write an entire email. This saves me literally hours per week and also spares my conscience the pain of not responding to at least most of my emails.
Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan, you had no idea what era you were ushering in did you?