How to regain control of your inbox by responding to email in batches

by | Jul 12, 2013 | Technology

Takeaway: To regain control of your inbox, schedule a few specific times throughout the day to deal with email instead of dealing with messages as they come in.

Estimated Reading Time: 1 minute, 43s.

Email is hard to tame, but responding to it in batches will help.

You may feel like you need to be on email all of the time, but chances are, people wouldn’t notice if you checked a lot less often.

Email is addictive. It’s stimulating to receive constant alerts and notifications. It feels good for receive compliments, click on entertaining links, and constantly stay on top of everything. And it can make you feel important when you spend all of your time responding to important messages.

But if you don’t use it right, email can also make you a lot less productive. It’s distracting to be constantly bombarded by notifications, pictures of cats, links to Susan Boyle videos, reminders that your TPS report is due, and messages you didn’t need to be copied on.

Like with multitasking, receiving and responding to email all day can make you feel a lot more productive than you actually are. The answer to this problem, I’ve found, is to check email less often (a lot less often), and to respond to email in a few batches throughout the day.

Here’s how to do it:

  • Schedule 3-5 times throughout the day to respond to email.1
  • Don’t do anything else during that timeframe – only focus on blowing through your inbox.
  • Shut off all notifications and alerts, and close down your email app when you aren’t answering email.

This approach to checking email takes a good amount of self-control, but only until you transition from checking for new messages constantly to checking for them on a schedule.

Answering your email in batches has a number of benefits:

  • It’s a lot easier to focus on your work when you’re not being bombarded with new messages.
  • It’s harder to let important messages just sit there when you deal with your email in a big batch.
  • You feel more in control. Email should exist for your convenience, not the convenience of every marketer and annoying coworker in your life.
  • It saves you stress when you blow through all of your messages at once.
  • You can compartmentalize email from the rest of your work life.

After reading about this approach to email a couple of months ago, I’ve been using it since. Try it – it works!

Two bonus email tips: Play The Email Game to blow through your inbox quicker than ever, and use these 3.5 tips to handle email even better.

“@” photo credit.

  1. I don’t block off specific period of time to check email, instead I make a tick on my calendar each time I check for new messages, until I’ve reached five ticks. 

Written by Chris Bailey

Chris Bailey has written hundreds of articles on the subject of productivity and is the author of three books: How to Calm Your Mind, Hyperfocus, and The Productivity Project. His books have been published in more than 40 languages. Chris writes about productivity on this site and speaks to organizations around the globe on how they can become more productive without hating the process.

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