Seven Ways to Control Your Inbox!

Today I came across an anonymous quote for writers.
“Being a good writer is 3% talent, 97% not being distracted by the internet.”

How true is that for you?

And perhaps the biggest distraction of all is the never-ending stream of email popping into our inboxes.

According to a case study by Loughborough University, it takes an average of 64 seconds to fully recover from being interrupted by an email.

Yet we have a little alarm that religiously calls our attention whenever an email arrives! If that isn’t bad enough, we may also have a little popup designed to interrupt our thought process each time. And perhaps we have our program set to download email every five minutes. How crazy is that?

Almost exactly a year ago, I wrote an article entitled7 Ways to Control your Inbox” It received well over 2,000 hits, so I guess I’m not the only one with an email problem. I used the suggestions I made on my laptop, and emails are still under control on that machine. Problem is, I never got around to doing it on my desktop computer–and quite honestly the problem there is so out of hand I don’t know where to start. The other problem is that I am so easily distracted. And that’s where this post is going . . .

Time to learn to say “No!” Perhaps you want to travel along with me?

Here are seven ways to break the distraction of emails, and win back the time they try to steal from you.

Many of these you may recognise from the previous article, in which case, “Well done!” If you haven’t taken these simple steps, now’s the time to take them, plus a number of other suggestions that will help you . . . me . . . us . . . find more time and become more productive, by cancelling out this major distraction to our daily schedule.

  1. Sort Your Settings: Each mail program is different, but they should all have a way to cancel the alarm that rings when a new email arrives. Uncheck that checkbox! Also the one that says, “Check for new mail every X minutes”. Why do you need that?
  1. Divide and Designate: Create folders in your email program, so you can see at a glance where the important emails are likely to be.

Some examples are: Family and Friends, Newsletters, Links, Store, Junk, plus a separate folder for any email group you belong to that is likely to send more than one mail a day. (I have one for TWV, one for CWOSA, one for CWGI. You get the picture.) You don’t want them all in the same box, as you’ll waste time looking for a specific topic. This way, you can see at a glance when new mail has arrived and where it is.

  1. Filter to Folders: Learn how to set filters in your email program. Create message rules (filters) that will send the routine emails to the relevant folders. Leave others to go straight to your inbox which you check three times a day. (Set a time limit to how long you’ll take to do this. That will make you work quicker, and also save you getting bogged down. Leave more complex mail until the last session of the day.)
  1. Deal with Downloads: Limit the number of times you download emails to three times a day, and don’t check allemails three times a day. Select the best time (usually first thing in the morning or last thing at night) when you will look at the non-urgent folders, for example your newsletters. Once a day is sufficient for these, or even twice a week. Any new ones that arrive today will still be there tomorrow and the next day. Your junk box—check it once a day or even twice a week.

Check first thing in the morning in case anything urgent came in while you were asleep. (This is especially relevant to those in the west of the globe. You need to see what those American friends have been up to during your night!) Limit your time, and then switch off your email program. That’s what I said. Switch it off!

  1. Judge the Junk: Today’s email programs usually come with message filters to send messages that look as if they could be spam into the junk folder. Check this folder twice a week, but don’t just delete the baddies or open the good ones. Train your program to recognize the true junk messages that you don’t want to get, so you don’t waste time on them again.
  1. Delete the Deleted: Periodically clean out your email folders, especially Deleted (Trash) and Sent. Email takes up a lot of space on your computer, and will cause your machine to become sluggish.
  1. Revive and Restore: Baydin has produced a 21-day program that it claims will help you:
  • Acquire new tools and strategies to handle email more effectively
    • Improve your communication skills
    • Identify your email personality
    • Be the proud owner of a healthy inbox
    • Eliminate the causes of email anxiety
    • Enjoy more free time

This program includes an email scheduling tool that helps you focus on messages that are important now. And The Email Game that helps you go through messages faster. I can’t say much more except that I’ve signed up! You can even choose what time of the day you want to receive the message.

According to them, today I ” took an important step: email no longer has the power to interrupt [me] when [I’m] doing something more important. Tomorrow, we’ll work on reducing the amount of email coming in.”

Sound good? Who’s going to join me?

OVER TO YOU: “Being a good writer is 3% talent, 97% not being distracted by the internet.” To what degree is your writing routine distracted by the internet, and in particular email? Any comments?

OTHER READING: 7 Ways to Control your Inbox


Take Those Emails

If you’re anything like me, you have a huge waterfall of email coming in daily.

Every time you go back there, the numbers are greater, and your head starts to swim. You try to paddle through them, answering, or marking them to answer, as you go. Some you delete. Some you leave to “read later”. Okay -forget that one. You won’t. If you can skim it now, do so. If you don’t really want to read it now, you probably won’t ever. So delete it. If it’s one you DO want to read later, highlight it. According to the programme you’re using, you’ll find something you can click on to “Watch” it. That should turn the title red, so that it stands out.

Start your plan to wrestle control from the sanity-threatening mass by setting up a series of folders for the big sections of your emails. e.g. if you are a member of CWOSA (Christian Writers of South Africa) you could make a folder called CWOSA. Do a number of these, for each main group of your emails. You may want to do one for Family or for any other group that writes to you frequently.

Next look for how to make Message Rules. It will be among the options at the top of your Email programme. Now set up corresponding rules for each box. For example, if you’re a member of CWOSA, you would arrange for all emails with the subject line CWOSA to go direct to the folder of that name. If you’ve called a folder “Family” then your rule would be something like all email from . . . and give a list of the email addresses that come from family. Click on AND after each one and you’ll be able to add another address. If you forget someone, you can always return to the “message rules” and modify that one.

Every morning (or whatever time you set aside to “Do Emails”) do a quick sweep through your folders. If there are new posts in the folders, the title of the folder eg. CWOSA should be bold. Click it open, and skim through the mail.

  • Some may not be relevant. Delete them immediately.
  • Delete adverts, appeals for money, forwards – I hate the way people see an email with a beautiful message and feel they HAVE to send them off to everyone in their address book. I delete the lot. The only ones I glance at is if they come from one of four people, folk whom I know won’t waste my time.
  • Some of the emails in the folder will be ones you want to come back to. Mark them as “WATCH”.
  • Those you can answer quickly, dash of a reply, remembering that this is NOT the time for long emails. The only messages I read are those from senders I know and/or with subject lines that catch my attention.

Once you’ve done this, or at a scheduled time later in the day, go back through the folders and deal with / respond to all the emails marked red. If it’s something you want to remember or need to keep track of, see you have a folder marked _Check monthly_ or something like that. (Then don’t forget to check monthly!)

I’ve been doing this with my new laptop since I got it about 5 months ago. The result is a laptop with NO – read that again – NO emails in my inbox. I’ve recently started to clean up my desktop but oh how I wish I had done this from the start.

Oh, one last point. I don’t have the computer downloading email during the day. It shatters me when I hop onto my email programme to send off a quick email and discover 45 emails waiting for me. That’s a guaranteed recipe for instant distraction. So I only download email when I’m ready to deal with it.

It doesn’t matter your system. The important thing is to find what works for you so you don’t waste time searching for emails or sorting through hundreds of messages of no consequence to you.

So – challenge for today.

Set up some useful folders, and make the rules to send the mail to them.