Too Many Emails? Here's How To Deal With Them
In 2005, I opened up a Gmail account and received my first message welcoming me to my new inbox. Today, my account contains 39,000 messages—including the 8,700 I haven't yet opened. To say that it's a source of stress would be an understatement. Between Gmail, work accounts, Slack, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Trello, text messages and yes, the occasional phone-call, it feels like an endless game of whack-a-mole. The minute I respond to one message, another pops up, leaving me with the gnawing sensation that I will never, ever catch up—especially if I want to accomplish anything aside from correspondence. With email, "you have the false sensation of advancing toward a goal, but the moment you look away, the target shifts further into the distance as more messages roll in," Jocelyn K. Glei, author of Unsubscribe: How to Kill Email Anxiety, Avoid Distractions, and Get Real, tells TheMuse.
I may have an exceptionally daunting inbox, but my anxiety about it isn't unique. On average, Americans spend 6.5 hours a day just checking their email—that doesn't include reading or responding to messages. That kind of time suck has taken its toll. With record rates of stress and anxiety among the millennial workforce, the expectation of flexible boundaries and constant communication may be partly to blame. According to one recent Virginia Tech study, managing the barrage of work emails at all hours of the day along with personal responsibilities, "triggers feelings of anxiety and endangers work and personal lives."
It's no wonder we break into cold sweats when we open our email accounts. "A lot of people easily get hundreds of emails a day," occupational therapist Angela Lockwood tells the SydneyMorningHerald. "They get anxious, thinking, 'I don't know how I'm going to cope.'" The result is a very real and uncomfortable anxiety that can be paralyzing. So how do we avoid this feeling without avoiding our email altogether? Here's some expert advice I'll be taking to heart.
Turn Off Your Alerts
The first thing you need to do is turn down the volume on the noise. If you have notifications on your phone that pop up every time you get a new email or social media alert, shut it off. "Email anxiety is very much around that constant intrusion into our day from notifications," suggests Lockwood, author of Switch Off: How to Find Calm In A Noisy World. "So the anxiety doesn't just happen when you open your computer in the morning, it's constant throughout the day." In today's world we're expected to be multitaskers, but it's impossible to complete just one task if we're constantly distracted by reminders of others. It's not like you're going to forget to check your accounts throughout the day, but in order to avoid that panic of inundation, you need the ability to focus on one thing, rather than a million little beeps and buzzes that may not be a priority at the moment.
Batch Your Tasks
"To achieve maximum productivity, we should schedule, prioritize and match the most important tasks that demand the majority of our attention with our periods of high energy levels," suggests TheLadders' Mayo Oshin. "On the flip side, our least important or less demanding tasks should be matched with the lower periods of energy." That means setting aside chunks of time during the day to deal with different types of emails. Oshin suggests checking in three times a day, setting aside 30-60 minutes each, depending on the volume of emails. You should get the most pressing emails out of the way immediately when you have fresh eyes and the most energy, and set aside those less urgent ones for later in the day when you need a break.
Set Your Boundaries
Yes, some emails require immediate responses, but most can wait. (TheMuse has a handy guide for lag time etiquette if you're ever unsure.) The problem is that the quicker you respond to emails, the higher the expectations become.
"Be sure to also think about the psychological messages you're sending along with your emails," suggest the folks at TrackTime24, an app designed to help you manage your tech time more efficiently. "Responding immediately trains people in a negative way and sets expectations that can be tough to maintain. Once you're known as someone who drops everything to reply to an email, delayed responses will begin to rub people the wrong way. But if you never set that expectation, taking your time to reply won't make waves."
Cognitive psychologist and improvement coach Amanda Crowell tested this theory herself, by waiting a day before replying to every email. Turns out the world didn't end, and she was able to discover which emailers required the most urgent responses and which ones were less likely to take offense. She was also able to send a clear message that she wasn't always available to everyone immediately. "We are holding ourselves in this prison of constant connection!" Crowell tells Quartz. "It's all about knowing what you really want, and then taking the small steps to get a little bit closer, and a little bit closer over time … that accumulation results in a different life."
Embrace Your "Inbox Infinity"
A few years ago, before the volume of emails in our collective inboxes grew out of hand, the idea of Inbox Zero—or a cleaned out inbox—seemed somewhat attainable. But the trend has gone in the other direction, and for good reason.
"The compulsion to empty our email inboxes is an addictive habit that makes us feel like we're making progress and getting things done, but in reality, we're wasting precious time that could be spent on our most important tasks," writes Oshin.
To remedy this addiction, TheAtlantic's Taylor Lorenz came up with a new, more realistic approach to the email pile-up: acceptance, or what Lorenz calls Inbox Infinity. "One critical step in the inbox-infinity method is to publicly admit that you have too much email to handle and be up front about not responding," Lorenz writes. "You can start by messaging close contacts and family members, providing them with alternative ways to reach you."
You can also set an auto-reply that alerts emailers about when to realistically expect a response, and how to reach you if the matter is urgent.
"Since putting up my own out-of-office responder on my personal inbox and adopting inbox infinity, I've felt my stress about opening my mailbox decrease," writes Lorenz. "I've also found that setting the expectation that I may never see or reply to an email makes people even more grateful when they do get a response."
The most important thing to remember is that you are the master of your own inbox. We are all weighed down by the pressure to keep up, but if your unread messages are causing you major anxiety, it's time to relax, take a breath, and consider picking up the phone. Sometimes responding to someone the old-fashioned way is the healthiest move for everyone.
Every time payday rolls around, I’m on top of the world. Jeff Bezos-level rich - even though I’m anything but. And then somehow the very next day, rent is due.
The cycle continues. The next payday, bills for my apartment. I find myself without a surplus of savings since I just moved and newly-furnished my apartment completely.
Even more terrifying is the looming presence of the holiday season. Halloween’s officially over and before we know it, hello Thanksgiving…and then there’s Hanukkah, Christmas, New Year’s. It’s insane.
I’ve been feeling very British lately. Not in a Union-Jack-obsessed, “Keep Calm and Carry-On” way. I went through that phase in 2012 with everyone else… no thank you. And it’s not even a surge of patriotism catalyzed by the Queen dying — I’m firmly team Diana and team Meghan.
Now that fall is officially here, the holidays will sweep in and I’ll have to contend with the fact that I won’t be spending them with my family in the UK. I went home to London earlier this year, so there’s not much left in my travel budget for another trip across the pond. A few domestic jaunts might be in my future, but the closest I’ll get to England this winter is watching Love Island and Love, Actually.
So in that spirit, I’ve been filling my days with content from my favorite Brits. I’m listening to all the old British rock bands I grew up listening to, patiently awaiting the new Arctic Monkeys album, and rewatching anything with Michaela Coel in it. I even shipped myself an order of British Baked Beans, so you know it’s dire.
I’ve also been watching British YouTubers like Grace Beverley — my favorite. Generally, I only go on YouTube to watch Vogue Beauty Secrets and AD Open Door videos. But I’m so glad I stumbled on Grace. Her content is a mix of London lifestyle (what lured me in), relatable entrepreneurship, and mindful productivity. I’m not a hustle-and-grind-girlboss, but as a creative person in a 9-to-5, I need all the help I can get to stay plugged in. So, the video “how to be really really really productive without getting overwhelmed” changed my approach to WFH.
Grace outlines her own productivity method: the to-do table. Instead of making a simple to-do list, she divides her tasks into a table that anyone can follow. As someone who’s survived with to-do lists for years, I recently implemented Grace’s method, and it’s revolutionized my workdays.
how to be really really really productive without getting overwhelmedwww.youtube.com
I follow her routine to a tee. Here’s how it works:
Essentially, she divides her daily responsibilities into four categories: quick ticks, tasks, projects, and non-negotiables.
- Quick Ticks: Actions that take less than 5-minutes
- Tasks: To-do’s that take up to 30-minutes. Probably don’t take too much brain energy.
- Projects: Long-term list items. These help guide your priorities, even if you’re not crossing them off in one day.
- Non-negotiables: Pick 3 things each day that you must get done. This is how you’ll truly measure success.
With everything written down and sorted, next address your schedule. Meetings, deadlines, and time blocks — whatever works best for you. Write it down. Then make a pact with yourself to stick to them.
This way of categorization provides a roadmap for prioritizing your day — making you far more productive. Have you ever spent the entire day on small tasks and then suddenly realized you hadn’t moved the needle on any task? Or do you spend way too much time on tasks that aren’t a priority? No more. With your non-negotiables laid out, you know what to laser-focus on and what to dedicate energy towards.
Also, it pays to know your working style. I’m not a morning person. Yet, I have to be up and at ‘em super early. So, first thing in the morning, I march through my Quick Ticks to warm me up. I set a time limit, so I can knock out some easy wins which is totally inspiring. Then I move on to bigger things without lingering on emails or admin. For others, it might be more helpful to tackle the big things with all that early-in-the-day brain power earlier.
Grace has great tips on avoiding overwhelm and burnout. My favorite is taking more intentional breaks rather than scrolling through social media. I call this scrolling “productive” because I’m “coming up with pitches.” Oh, the lies we tell ourselves. It’s more productive in the long run to giving my brain a break with non-screen related stimuli.
Grace’s solution? Set a timer to read a real, an actual book. I’ve never thought of this. It’s a genius way to check off some books on my TBR and kickstart my creativity. After reading a good book, I’m completely inspired to write. So having books near my desk helps me step away from the computer during my lunch break for an actual reset. (And yes, the current books I’m reading are by British authors: Assembly by Natasha Brown, and Love in Color: Mythical Tales from Around the World, Retold by Bolu Babalolu.)
In my pursuit of switching out my WFH set-up and getting my life together, I’ve engineered my workstation for success. With my new WFH essentials and Grace’s productivity technique, I’m revitalized for work — despite the fall blues and my melancholy about the pending holidays.
Here are the things getting me hyped for work and helping me crush my Grace Beverley-inspired to-do tables — no lists in sight:
Pack your bags — Southwest Airlines is having a major sale! Fares are as low as $59 one-way if you book by October 3rd.
This end-of-summer super sale is a game-changer for your travel plans through the end of the year. Summertime travel gets all the glory. But why not take advantage of your long weekends, holidays, and PTO this fall. You’ll be surprised at how much travel you can fit in. Keep the fall/winter season exciting with domestic trips that give you all the excitement without breaking the bank. All thanks to Southwest.
Here’s the breakdown:
Where can you go?
You’ll find discounted tickets to and from most airports. Sale fares apply to cross country travel, and even Hawaii, Mexico, and the Caribbean! Whether you’re visiting a new city or revisiting your last beach vacation, this sale has fares to make your travel dreams come true.
What do the fares cover?
Southwest Airlines has multiple fare tiers, each with various benefits. Wanna Get Away fares start at $59, while Wanna Get Away Plus fares start at $89. You can also find great deals on Anytime fares, which offer priority boarding and express lanes. Then there’s Business Select tickets for a luxe experience at an affordable price point.
Do you have to be a Southwest Rapid Rewards member?
You may think these sale fares are too good to be true. Is there a catch? Do you have to be a Southwest Rapid Rewards member to access them? You’re in luck — anyone can attain these fares for a limited time.
But, insider tip, you should consider signing up for Southwest Rapid Rewards. With a free sign up, you earn points and miles with each trip you take. And with this sale, each dollar you spend on these discounted tix can stretch super far until you eventually earn free travel. The only thing better than a sale is free stuff.
I’ve been browsing the Southwest Airlines site, checking out flights and dreaming.