We have a love/hate relationship with email. Forty percent of employees wish they had less email, according to a poll by Adobe. Yet a study from email-marketing platform provider Reachmail found that 70% of us check work email after 6 p.m., and 58% typically respond to an email within one hour.
"People have to understand that the email problem is largely their own fault," says Kevin Kruse, author of 15 Secrets Successful People Know About Time Management. "Email, for many, is an addiction. Just like sex, drugs, and gambling, checking email releases the pleasure hormone dopamine. We like checking for new things. We like to do email rather than the hard thing on our to-do list. And let's not forget FOMO; many of us check email constantly because of the fear of missing out."
Time spent on email is time that can be better spent on important goals or relationships, says Kruse. Here are five tips for getting control of your email habit and cutting the amount of time you spend on it in half:
Ultra-successful people don't check email; they process it. "They treat it like any other work task: Plan for it, schedule it on their calendar, and then tackle it," says Kruse, who recommends dealing with email three times a day, once during the morning, at noon, and again at night.
"Many self-made millionaires I've interviewed process their own email, but they only do it once a day," says Kruse. "I think the key is not the amount of time, but rather doing it intentionally. We should all schedule our email work just like we should schedule all of our other work. Maybe we need three hours a day to handle it all, or maybe we need 30 minutes, but it should be done with intention."
Another easy way to reduce the amount of time you spend on email is to stop cc'ing in so many people on your emails. That includes skipping "reply all," says Kruse.
"Basically, the less email you send, the less you'll receive," he says. "One large energy company reported that they cut total email traffic by over 50% just by training people to think twice before sending out an email."
Another way to drastically cut down the time you spend on email triage is filtering certain kinds of messages into separate folders, says Alexandra Samuel, author of Work Smarter with Social Media: A Guide to Managing Evernote, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Your Email. Use your email provider’s rule function to send less important messages, like cc's and newsletters, to alternate folders that can be handled at your leisure.
"The more you use rules to make conscious, consistent choices about which emails need your attention, the less time and energy you’ll spend on messages that aren’t as important as the work or personal tasks you really need time for," says Samuel, who teaches the class Work Smarter with Email on Skillshare.
People often use their email inbox as a second to-do list, leaving messages there to deal with at a later time, says Kruse. "This is horrible for productivity," he says. "Even though I receive a couple hundred emails a day, I always achieve ‘inbox zero’ before I quit for the day."
Kruse follows the "4 Ds." When he processes email, he first asks himself if he can delete it. If not, he decides if he can delegate it, forwarding it to someone else. If he can't do that, he asks himself if he can do it in less than five minutes. If so, he replies or handles the task. If he can’t do it in five minutes, he defers it to later.
"But rather than leaving it in my inbox, I drag it onto my calendar and I pick a specific date, time, and duration in which I respond," he says.
You’ll be more likely to reduce the amount of time you spend on email if you let others know your intention, says Kruse. Talk to colleagues about it, and tell your boss that in the spirit of maximizing your productivity, you're only going to process email at certain times of the day, and you’ll have your email notifications shut off.
"Ask her if it's okay, and establish a system for how she can reach you for time-sensitive requests, perhaps via text or a phone call," he says.
Cutting back on email will mean changing old habits, and that can take a while, says Kruse. "It's best to be patient with yourself, and to know that it will take time before you psychologically realize you don't need to spend as much time in email as you do," he says.