MORE TREES, LESS EMAIL: MANAGING YOUR EMAIL (AND YOUR SANITY)
Over the last few years I’ve realised that I’m terrible at having down time and if I’m idle too long I get bored and depressed. Staying very busy is the way I function best and, though it sounds counterintuitive, also the way I get the most done. My efforts over the last few years to always have a full schedule have worked - maybe a little too well - and now I find myself often managing a full time performing career, an entertainment agency in its early growth stages, and booking tours of New Zealand for my own band and others, with all the email correspondence that accompanies it. Jumping between tasks and getting good at snatching a few moments here and there to respond to email is just a part of life now, so here are a few ways I’ve learned to better manage the influx of email and reduce the stress it can create.
Note: I use gmail and G-suite, so a lot of these suggestions are referencing the way Gmail works. Some of it is applicable to all email providers, and some of it might not be. This isn’t a advertisement for anything except maintaining one’s sanity, so… ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
If you’re someone who has 10,000 emails in your inbox the first step might be to wipe the slate clean. Archiving everything and starting with an empty inbox can be really good way to move forward seeing only the current emails you need to answer. The prospect of archiving 1000’s of emails 50 at a time (the most gmail will display on a page at one time) was not at all appealing to me, and at first glance archiving everything at once proved surprisingly difficult to do. This article explains how to archive (not delete) everything in just a few steps. If you really want to keep the last few hundred emails in your inbox (to keep ignoring every day) you can “select all” using the steps in the article, and then manually un-select any you want to keep in your current inbox. Either way, everything is still there if you need to search for it, but your inbox is now magically, gloriously, clean and empty.
Gmail has a good way of auto-sorting emails into what is probably important and what is promotional, but even so every day I was getting dozens of mailing list updates, social media notifications, and sale notices for companies I don’t ever remember signing up for. I really don’t need more ways to procrastinate or more reasons to shop, so I made a point of unsubscribing to 6 superfluous emails every day and soon I noticed a significant reduction in the quantity of daily emails and a huge upswing in the quality of what I was receiving.
Lately I’ve been trying really hard to only open my email program when I have a few minutes to reply to whatever I find. In the past I was terrible for seeing a message, thinking through my reply, and then not actually responding, only to have to apologetically reply several weeks later when I realised I’d imagined my response. This was especially likely to happen when I read a message in the middle of the night, zombie checking while in line for something, or as I was rushing out to do something else.
I find responding right when I read a new email is the most efficient way to keep the backlog down, and whether I actually write the reply or not, my brain has usually decided what it’ll be so I might as well get it done right then anyway. Reply and then archive the thread so you’re left with only what still needs to be attended to in your inbox, and if you know you definitely don’t have the time to reply to anything, try not to open the email program at all.
Divert the Stream
Try to send people through the appropriate communication channel, even if they don’t start there. If someone facebook messages or texts about business (and assuming it’s not urgent) I try to reply with, “Hey, thanks for the message. Can you email me about this?” and give them the related email address for whatever aspect of my work they’re communicating about. Keeping work correspondence in work channels (like email, slack, or other business chat apps) makes it easier to find conversation threads and attachments, and also helps you set boundaries around your work hours. Trying to draw a line between work and social communication helps prevent people from sending work messages through channels you might be still using during your relaxation time (like instagram or facebook). Sometimes a text or call is necessary for a time sensitive question, but at all other times try to have business conversations through an appropriate medium to help with creating and respecting some semblance of business hours. Which brings me to...
For better or for worse, we all email, text, and message about business at all hours of the day now. You can’t control the time someone hits send on their message to you, but you can try to keep work communication to channels you’re able to mentally check out of, and set yourself boundaries for how and when you’ll see, reply, and write emails of your own. We all have varying schedules, and not everyone’s “office hours” are 9-5 M-F, but try to at least respect normal awake hours by not texting about business very late at night unless it’s a major emergency. If your personal schedule means you’re up emailing at 2am, use the scheduled email function so that your recipient can receive your email at a reasonable hour the next day.
Rebump is an amazing email tool for creating easy follow ups to emails. For $5 a month you can set between 1 and 4 “bumps” to be sent as a follow up to any selected email. It’s a great tool to use when you’re sending out gig booking emails, information requests, or just trying to make plans with a friend who sucks at getting back to you. If the person replies before the first bump, the sequence is automatically turned off. If they don’t reply, a simple message is sent 3 days after your original email saying, “Hey - just checking in, can you get back to me about this?” - you choose the message and timeframe. It means you can send emails, completely forget about them, and be more likely to receive a response. The level of vitriol in your bumps is entirely up to you!
(Photo: less email, more trees)