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How to Avoid Death by Email

My mother believes that boys are bees not butterflies so encouraged an adventurous spirit. Despite not knowing how to swim, one day I jumped from a diving board believing momentum would carry me to the side of the pool. It didn’t and I still remember the sensation of slowly beginning to drown. Fortunately another kid noticed what was happening and towed me to the side. A while ago I was reminded of this experience as the volume of work emails I was receiving slowly and inevitably began to overwhelm me.

Action steps:

  • Using Outlook rules, I created a rule that said if I was cc’d on an email it automatically went to a folder called cc’d email. My feeling was that typically all I need to do was take note of the email content so this is a folder I check once or twice a day.
  • Created a new Gmail account purely for social media, Google alerts etc and redirected all of these types of emails to it.
  • Changed the message settings on sites like LinkedIn and Google alerts to weekly notifications.
  • Following the guidelines of David Allen in “Getting Things Done” I then try to go through each email within the framework options of; Do, Delegate, Defer, Delete.
  • Every Friday I clear my primary inbox entirely, whatever remains unresolved, I write into my calendar to-do list for the Monday of the next week. These tend to be important and multi-step issues that tend to get resolved over a few days.
  • It is easy to click “reply” to an email, now I try to stop the endless spiral of emails.
  • Having the discipline not to reply to certain emails or to “block sender” of unsolicited emails becomes easier the more you do it.
  • The last tactic has been to try to not use emails at all at least one day a week. Picking up the phone, quick messaging on Skype, a short SMS on a mobile etc have served to improve the quality of the contact and deepen the relationships.


Twitter: @garym213