Guess how much time you’re going to spend responding to emails this year?
According to a recent study … about 81 days.
Email is a wonderful tool, but I think we can all agree that 81 days is an awfully big slice of your life. Personally, I’d rather take those 81 days and write my next erotic novel … master a new skill (twerking, anyone?) … or slowly, tactfully figure out a way to convince country music superstar Blake Shelton to be my life coach. For starters.
When faced with a burgeoning inbox, our first instinct is often to ask:
How can I answer all of the emails, faster?
But in order to find a permanent solution to inbox-overwhelm, we need to be asking a different question:
How can I GET fewer emails in the first place?
If you want to start receiving significantly fewer emails — and finally wake up to that empty inbox of your dreams — here are six steps to try:
Step 1. Send fewer emails.
Simple and true. If you want to get fewer emails, send fewer emails. Magic!
Step 2. Unsubscribe from things you don't want, love or need.
If you haven’t worn that dress anytime in the past three years, chances are, you aren’t gonna wear it. And if you haven’t cracked open that promotional newsletter from that company you love, like, ever? It’s just taking up space. Clear it out.
Remove yourself from hundreds of mailing lists in one fell swoop with Unroll.me. (You’ll be shocked at how many you’re on. It’s disturbing.)
Step 3. Don't answer (most) emails right away.
As my friend Dyana likes to say: "You're not a firefighter."
You don't have to jump to answer every email that flutters into your inbox, as if it's on fire. The truth is, 99% (if not 100%) of the time, it can wait. You’re smart, talented and valuable, yes, but nobody’s going to perish if they get your response tomorrow, instead of right-freaking-now.
Step 4. Don’t answer (certain) emails ... ever.
Just get another one of those mass-blasted requests for help, money, job leads, Kickstarter donations, what have you, from somebody that you barely know? Again?!
Delete it. With no guilt.
Remember that every email is an invitation to respond, not a command. You are not obligated to chime in and offer personalized support to every single person who happens to have your email address.
Step 5. Respond with declarations, not questions.
If you conclude an email with something like ...
What time do you think we should have dinner?
What price feels good for you?
How do you think we should proceed, from here?
... you will generate more emails, with more questions, requiring your continued thought and attention.
Instead of an open-ended question, try ending your emails with a clear declaration:
Let's reconnect in one week. I'll call your cell phone at 10am next Monday.
People will be grateful for your precision.
Step 6. Model the behavior that you'd like to see.
This goes for emails, and ... everything ever.
If you make a habit of emailing friends, colleagues (or even total strangers) asking for "advice" on things you could probably Google yourself ... then others will probably do the same, to you.
If you write long, rambling, jigsaw-puzzle-esque emails ... then you'll get responses that are equally mystifying.
But! If you are respectful, concise and articulate ... well, you know the rest.
To paraphrase our ol' buddy, Dr. Phil:
You teach people how to treat you.
And that includes how to communicate with you.
So, be a firm, loving and consistent teacher. Your inbox (and psyche) will thank you.