I was speaking with a friend recently about email overload, and he made an interesting point:
“It’s no so much that I’m overwhelmed by what is in my inbox – it’s that I spend so much time constantly checking it.”
If you check your email too frequently, there’s a good chance you’re wasting time – and hurting your productivity.
Let’s discuss seven reasons people constantly check their email – and how to check it less often without losing any effectiveness.
#1: Your Inbox Is Your Todo List
We know this is wrong, but I see people do it all the time anyway: store emails in their inbox to remind them of what they have to do. It might be an actual task, or it may be a quick way to remind them of someone to follow up with.
So of course that leads to checking email constantly – not to see what’s new, but to see what we have to do next.
Solution: Get A Proper Task List. We all know the solution to this issue, it’s just a matter of implementing it. Break the cycle and realize your inbox is not your todo list – it’s an inbox. Items come in and get processed quickly – and if there is a big task looming in one of those emails, it needs to be properly placed on a real todo list.
#2: You Store Documents There
I’ve seen this all the time as well – “Where’s that report? It’s in my email somewhere…”
Your email is not a personal file server. Everytime you open your inbox to look for items you need, you risk being distracted by new email. It’s better to have a proper file storage solution.
Solution: Use Software Designed For File Storage. If you need access to files in different places, use a service like Dropbox. It’s free synchronizes across computers, the web and your smartphone. And if you accidentally delete something? It’s backed up to the web for you. Sign up and try it out.
#3: It’s Urgent
Most of us don’t get emails every day that require an immediate response – but sometimes, someone does urgently expect a response.
This leads to us anxiously check email constantly – even though most emails we get could wait!
Solution: Change expectations. This is one of the hardest situations to deal with, because there is no tool that will fix it. You just have to change people’s expectations. I try to reply to email with 72 hours, but sometimes I take a week or more – and over time friends and family have just gotten used to it. If it’s urgent and quick, they know they should call or text me.
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#4: You’re Bored
Have you noticed this? In the past few years, as smartphones have becomes popular, I’ve seen people frequently pull out their phone when they are bored to check their email.
Solution: Find Something Else To Do. Don’t check email just because you feel like procrastinating. Go for a walk, wash the dishes, clean your room – just don’t check email as a way of killing time. If you treat checking email as a separate activity, and not just something you do when you can’t think of anything better to do, you’ll find yourself less dependent on it and using it more effectively.
#5: Something Is Unread
Perhaps the worst thing to come out of the smartphone wars is the notification icon. Now we always know when there is a new email in our inbox – and our curiosity gets the better of us.
Solution: Turn notifications off, or Filter Emails. At times I have turned off my email notifications, and that works great. If I don’t know that I have more email, I’m not tempted to check it. Even better though is setting up filters. My low value emails go straight to a “Review Later” folder – so even if I open up my inbox on my phone, there’s nothing there – and that means my notification icon is blank.
#6: It’s Always Open
If the first thing you see when you sit down at your computer is your inbox, then of course you’ll constantly check it. When your inbox is always in view, you’ll be constantly tempted to see what might be waiting inside.
Solution: Close The Browser or Your Email Client. When you leave your computer, shut down your email application or close the website. It’s much easier to check email on a proper schedule if you’re not tempted by it as soon as you sit at your desk. Sometimes, the best way to overcome the temptation to check your email is to avoid being tempted at all!
#7: It’s a Habit
Many people like to begin the day by checking their email. Not necessarily because they’ve found that works best – but simply out of habit.
It’s a habit that probably served them well at one point. Now however, checking email too often is a bad habit – or at least, a good habit that’s gone too far.
Solution: Replace Checking Email With New Habits. Pick a new action to do when you would normally fall into the habit of checking your email. For example, as soon as you wake up, tidy up your bed. Or when you get home, drink a glass of water. It may sound silly – but the easiest way to break out of the rut of old habits is by creating new ones.
The Last Word
It may sound like I’m singling out email here, but this is bigger than just email. This about checking Twitter and Facebook too frequently, or mindlessly browsing channels on television.
This is about where you focus your attention, and how you spend your time.
Your time, and your life is valuable – and I want to make sure it’s not wasted on trivial tasks.
Some emails you get might be important: but for many people, the act of constantly checking email isn’t. I personally know a handful of power users and community builders who need to check email frequently because their livelihood does depend on it.
However, if you don’t fall into that category, and you’re one of the “average smartphone users” that a study recently found check their notifications 34 times a day – you may be checking your email too often, and it’s time to stop.
You don’t have to go it alone. If you are struggling with overload in other aspects of your life, feel trapped – and want to finally make time to get the most out of your life, take a moment to read the details about my course The Action Solution and see if it’s something you’d be interested in. It is the result of decades of experience, and hundreds of hours of working with real people – just like you.