How I Made Email My Best Friend Instead of My Worst Enemy

If my tips don’t help just ask my wife how she does it… this is her real unread count!

We all have to deal with email – there’s really no way around it (trust me, I’ve tried). It’s part of what we do, every single day – in fact, it’s more than what we do: It’s part of who we are as people and a culture.

Now, I’m not here to defend whether email is a good or bad thing but I am here to confidently state that it’s here and that it’s our job to stay on top of it and to manage it the best that we possibly can, especially if it has the potential of becoming a serious distraction to your efforts as a writer!

And truth be told we probably lose a significant amount of concentration, focus, and writing time with our email with little to no additional productivity being created!

Now I’m not a professional productivity guru or anything like that and I don’t necessarily obsess about optimizing everything in my life but email is definitely one area that I’ve spent an incredible amount of time finding that “right” workflow that’ll keep my writing progress and publishing at a maximum.

Here’s a few tips that I use daily in my management of email to slay the beast called Distraction and move forward with hitting that Publish button every single day:

  1. Batch Like You’ve Never Batched Before – I’ve talked about batching before in other workflows like managing and moderating comments and it applies here as well: Pick a few times during the day where you’re going to engage with your email and stick with it. For some of you this may be the most revolutionary thought (and challenge) ever and to think that you won’t touch your email during certain parts of the day is tough – but it changes your world. Some experts check email only twice a day and some manage to check it once every 10 days! Don’t ask me how they do it but they do (and been very successful with it!).
  2. Scheduling Writing Hours – This can work independently or in tandem with the first point about batching and is essentially you declaring what hours you will be writing and making those your “writing hours” or “work hours” for your blogging efforts. You not only create this schedule for yourself but you advertise it to those that know you and may have to interface with you consistently. Simply telling your team “Hey, I’m writing between the hours of 8-10:00am Mon/Wed/Fri ok?” can change your world (and theirs).
  3. Choose One System – The challenge with email these days is that you too many options when it comes to accessing it – you have desktop applications like Apple Mail and Microsoft Outlook, web-based interfaces through Gmail, Yahoo, Hotmail, and AOL (*gasp*!), and even your mobile devices which can provide as-rich an experience as any other. Try to choose one and stick with it as the primary app that you use to respond to email. Sure, you can “check” email on other applications and devices but I’d even recommend minimizing this as well.
  4. Kill Notifications – Not only do I choose one system to use but I no longer use any notification systems that might randomly “pop up” when I’m writing. These could include keeping that Tab open in your browser that shows you the number of “unread” emails or a desktop nav bar that “beeps” or even brings up a pop up to distract your writing work. I’ve seen some people include text messaging in their “notification workflow” – that’s insane!
  5. Try to Remove Anxiety – Generally email is viewed by many people as a negative activity which creates negative emotion and anxiety. If you can somehow begin to think about email as something that doesn’t “weigh you down” but rather something positive you’ve found the Holy Grail to email. I haven’t done this perfectly well but it’s improved over the years and I no longer feel like I’m completely “drowning” when I see the stacks and stacks of unread email (and I get about 300+ a day!).
  6. Answer Strategically – There have been some pretty conclusive studies that the more email that you answer the more email you get; it’s something to the affect of for every email you answer you receive 1.5-1.7 emails in return (or something like that). The point is not necessarily the exact figure but the fact that even if it is true (and I think it is) that it’s not sustainable or scaleable. What this has meant for me is that I answer email far less than you’d imagine – in fact, sometimes I just delete and ignore. This is especially important for someone who no longer has an administrative assistant reviewing my email for me!
  7. Keyboard Shortcuts – Some people have never really understood the value of the keyboard shortcut but let me tell you that it makes you infinitely more effective with your application and your email if you can begin to crack the science and art of the keyboard shortcut. You see, your use of a mouse is unbearably slow compared to your ability to type out the commands with lightning speed. Learn the keyboard shortcuts for your email application and tell me you don’t see a significant increase of speed once you got it down.
  8. Prioritize Writing – Not only do I prioritize writing above my email mentally and emotionally but I also do this through practically choosing the right applications that reflect this like some of these writing apps that help you focus as well as my favorite focus writing app available. Your goal as a blogger is to create content and you can’t do this when you’re checking email. I mean, this is what this post is all about right? This is what your blog is all about, right?
  9. Don’t Check Before Going to Bed or the First Thing in the Morning – This might be one of the most practical tips that I can give you (although I think all of them are pretty darn practical). Simply do not check email as the first thing you do when you wake up and the last thing you do before going to bed. I can’t tell you how beneficial this has been for me. Trust me on this.
  10. Email Was Created For Good – This is one of those things that I wish someone had told me earlier in my corporate career because it could have saved me so much heartache and stress with just a simple mindset change. You see, email is here to help you and not hinder you from what you’re doing. Managing it well is your problem, not email itself. Funny how a simple change of perspective can do a lot of good!

Finally, there’s wisdom in simply remembering that it’s just email and that life will not end if you can’t get to it or if you have to “strategically” ignore that one and if you can’t answer one or two here and there (or more).

Especially as a blogger you need to keep pumping out content and email will keep you back if you don’t manage it today. In fact, these tips can help you manage pretty much everything in your life, not just writing, so try a few and let me know how the results pan out! If you need any more tips check out this guy who really knows what he’s talking about!

And if you’ve got some personal tips that you’d like to share I’d love to hear about it!

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