It was fun back when I got my very first screen name on AOL in 7th grade. It was fun in college when my only emails were invitations to campus activities or surprise announcements that class would be canceled because the professor is feeling ill.
But now, here in this post-college “real world,” I hate email. It is no longer fun. It is no longer a novelty.
Maybe my view comes as a result of having worked in an office at an advertising company for the past three years. There, email is the primary form of communication. Virtually all of my work assignments would arrive via email. And perhaps it wouldn’t be so bad if I were only responsible for a firstname.lastname@example.org inbox…but at my peak, I was working a total of six additional inboxes.
Yes. SIX ADDITIONAL INBOXES. Two inboxes for inquiries about my advertising company’s “daily deals” product, two for questions about our video product, one for problems with our website product, and one for “escalations.” (“Escalations,” in customer service lingo, generally means “really angry customer with a very complex problem.”)
So, that’s a total of seven inboxes. Many of those inboxes received at least 100 new emails per day. I wanted to pull my hair out.
And, even though Seinfeld’s Newman character is speaking about physical postal mail in this scene, I completely identify with his “it keeps coming and coming” spiel.
Is your work email situation a lot like mine? If so, here are a few ways to take (some of) the stress out of managing email overload:
1. Get rid of that annoying pop-up notifier in Outlook. It’s turned on by default and will pop up on the bottom right-hand corner of your screen every time you receive a new email. I can’t tell you how many times I was researching an account or troubleshooting an in-depth problem and lost my flow as a result of following the siren song of that damn pop-up notifier. Get rid of it if you want to work more effectively on the task at hand without distraction.
2. Check your email only twice per day. Of course, if your entire job is based around “working the inboxes” (like mine), this won’t work. And it will probably get you into trouble to boot. But if you have enough autonomy at your workplace to manage your time and tasks as you please, give this a try. It’ll free up more time to actually work on the critical components of your job.
3. Prioritize your emails. Use color-coding labels (they’re available in Outlook and in Gmail) to organize your emails by urgency (or importance). For example, use red for all the stuff that needs to be finished ASAP. Code the emails that can wait until tomorrow as yellow, and the emails that can wait until next week as green. Each day, work on the reds first thing in the morning and move your way down the priority color ladder.
4. Get a second computer monitor. See if your company has some old and unused monitors that you can attach to your computer to create more desktop space. (Or, consider bringing in an old monitor from home.) If you’ve got the type of job in which you always need one eye on your inbox, keeping your inbox open on the left monitor while working/writing/researching on the right monitor will keep you away from that endless cycle of minimizing Outlook and expanding your Word document. And then minimizing your Word document and expanding your Outlook. Rinse and repeat.
5. Accept the fact that you will never bring your unread emails down to zero. If your job is anything like mine, you’ll never get below 10 unread emails. Sometimes, as you finish replying to one email, two more arrive in its place. (Don’t they say the same thing about gray hair? Pluck one, and get two more in return?) Allow yourself to find calm in knowing that there are only 10 unread messages. Don’t always strive for 0. Don’t only expect to find a sense of calm zen when you clean your plate.
6. Ignore any of my advice that doesn’t feel intuitive for you. I once took a day-long class at work that was supposed to teach me how to organize my inbox more effectively. At the end of the class, we were tasked with opening our laptops and following a step-by-step Xerox to completely reorganize our Outlook layout. I followed the steps, but soon realized that I absolutely hated the setup and I could no longer find emails or tasks with ease. What’s intuitive for someone else might not be intuitive for you. So, please tweak (or trash) any of the above ideas to your liking!
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Last reviewed: 20 Sep 2011