• James Walton

Crush Email Before it Crushes You

Updated: Oct 16, 2019

The average knowledge worker in the United States spends 28% of their work managing email, per a recent report from McKinsey.

That's about 11 hours a week, or 550 hours a year.

And yet, never once, have I seen a job description where the second line item includes: "manages email effectively to ensure adequate energy and attention is paid to delivering on key projects."

So in an effort to not mistake activity for progress, or conflate "inbox zero" with professional effectiveness (they're related, but not identical), here's a few ideas to crush email before it crushes you.

  • Parkinson's Law is a real thing. Work expands to fill the time allotted to it. Email must be allotted a given time each day, or else it runs the risk of overrunning the banks of your day and flooding your life. Processing your email in three twenty batches each day (8am, 11:30am, 4:00pm, say) confines it to reasonable boundaries.

  • Marie Kondo your inbox. Ask yourself of each email, "does this bring joy?" or perhaps, "is this a voice I need to pay attention to?" Unsubscribing is a powerful act that focuses your attention (your most important resource) on what matters. Define who you need to hear from, and eliminate the rest.

  • Avoid "muda". In Lean methodology, one of the wastes Taiichi Ohno of Toyota identified was overprocessing. I used to create a tiered taxonomy of email folders and spent precious decision making moments and clicks to sort each email processed into a dozen different folders. After years of this, I realized I very rarely ever went into those folders. So don't make it more complicated than it needs to be; all processed email goes in the archive folder. Once I setup the keyboard shortcut in Gmail to autoarchive and advance to the next message, the volume of email I could process in 20 minutes increased by 25%.

Use these tips to crush email before it crushes you. What else have you learned about managing your inbox effectively?

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