Some day, I’ll get to that email.

And there it sits. The days pass by and new emails push it farther down the screen.

New emails, that some day I’ll get to.

Now my inbox is full of hundreds of new emails, never read, that some day, I’ll get to.

And never do.

Our email accounts are causing us too much stress.

Gloria Mark, a researcher at the University of California at Irving, has learned that the average worker checks his email 74 times a day.

That’s nine times an hour in a typical eight-hour workday.

NINE.

What’s more, Mark’s survey participants reported they switched tasks less often and were able to focus when their inbox was closed.

That’s right. Their productivity improved when their email was taken away.

Oh dear. I fear I’ve turned you into a blubbery, shaking mess at the thought of separating you from your email.

“You can pry my keyboard from my cold, dead hands, Otremba!”

It’s OK. I get it. I would be lost without my three email accounts, too.

So let’s try to manage our inboxes a little better instead.

Files, folders and filters

Part of my work as a leadership and life coach revolves helping my clients get organized.

One client lets her inbox get clogged up with all kinds of newsletters, blog subscriptions and promotions. She sees a “really good idea” in the subject line or email body and can’t let go of it.

She thinks “I might use that idea, so I need to find it again.”

When she came to me, she had emails as old as two years. The thought of deleting them caused her full-blown anxiety. She flatly refused to delete anything; she just couldn’t do it!

I started her intervention session, having her print out each email and put them all in a physical folder labelled “Great Ideas.”

Two years later, she still hasn’t used any of the ideas in the folder. Some aren’t “great” enough for her organization; most aren’t feasible enough for their business goals.

The ideas, however, excite her and fuel her creativity. My preference for her is to allow herself time to go online and search for great ideas to fuel that creativity, but the physical folder is like a security blanket.

You can have that physical folder, or you can create a new folder in your inbox – right now. I like to call it The Someday File.

It’s for those emails you want to read but just can’t get to. Then you give yourself a deadline (and mark it in your Google or Outlook calendar!).

When those newsletters and blog subscriptions fly into your Inbox, you move them into The Someday File. Some email services, like Gmail and Outlook, even let you create a filter that will automatically send those emails into The Someday File. If you allow those emails to sit in your Inbox, they’re taking up space. Having them tucked away in their own special spot lets you clear up the clutter — not only in your inbox but also in your mind.

When your deadline comes and you still haven’t read the emails in The Someday File, put your cursor over that damn file, right-click it and hit delete.

Yep. Delete. Hard delete. No looking, no re-saving, no nothing.

If you haven’t looked in that file in three months, six months or a year — whatever your deadline was — you aren’t going to look any time soon.

Plug up your energy drains

[tweetthis hidden_hashtags=”#productivity #stressmanagement”]The constant flow of new email is an energy drain.[/tweetthis]

Just the blip or ba-bing of a “You’ve Got Mail” notification is enough to distract you from the work at hand.

If you click on the new email, you’ve probably wasted time. You’re not likely going to do anything with the information in that moment and then you have to get your head back to the business you were doing.

And even if you don’t click on each new email, the alert has still interrupted your flow.

It’s draining us of the energy we need to be productive throughout the entire day — not just our work hours.

Kostadin Kushlev, a PhD student at the University of British Columbia’s psychology department and the lead researcher of a study published in Computers in Human Behaviour, found people who frequently scan their inboxes are more likely to feel stressed throughout the day.

It’s almost like this addictive behaviour where you’re constantly task switching between what you’re doing and the next email that comes in.

Instead of letting our email inbox drain us of our energy, we can plug the holes.

In addition to The Someday File, we can:

  • Turn off our notifications
  • Allot 15- or 30-minute time periods in the morning and afternoon to manage new emails
  • Unsubscribe to newsletters and blog subscriptions we rarely have time to read
  • Prioritize your reply process — important emails from the boss or clients should always be attended to, right?
  • Set boundaries for people who expect, but not always merit, instant response

Inbox clutter is distracting, and it’s creating stress.

Stress that grows exponentially with every incoming email and alert.

Email management = stress management

A 2013 study at Loughborough University in the United Kingdom tracked the blood pressure, heart rate and cortisol levels of 30 staffers. The findings showed a direct link between email and stress, indicating employees are more prone to increased stress when reading and sending emails.

The majority of participants — 92 per cent! — became fraught with elevated blood pressure and heart rates during email use. Their stress heightened when they received emails they perceived as irrelevant to their work flow, required an immediate response or distracted them from their work.

While Professor Tom Jackson admitted email isn’t much different from other ways of communicating, our stress levels depend on how we manage the tool.

“Multi-tasking email alongside other communication media, such as phone and face-to-face meetings, increases the risk of becoming stressed,” he said. “The key to reducing workplace stress is better training for staff on how to manage their communication media, from better diary control to limiting how often they check their email accounts.”

Our email inboxes are creating anxiety.

Whether it’s the bombardment of messages or the piece of us that thinks we’re missing out on something if we don’t open, read and answer each email.

Whether it’s the excess of information or the anxiety that you’ll never get around to doing anything with it.

It’s draining our energy stores and, if we don’t learn how to manage it better, it keeps growing and growing and putting even more pressure on us.

We must manage that piece to stop the negative flow of energy.

We can’t do it some day. We have to do it now and with the help of a Someday File, it becomes manageable.

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