How to Break Up with Your Email Inbox
Why you should check your email less often and 5 strategies to help you do it
Reducing stress is big business. Think massages, Soul Cycle classes, yoga retreats and prescription and OTC sleep aids. But solutions to stress don’t have to cost money. Here’s a free one that may save you time as well as sanity: checking your email less often.
A recent study showed it works. Researchers from the University of British Columbia’s psychology department examined 124 adults over a period of two weeks. For the first week, subjects were asked to open their email only three times a day. The next week, they could open it as often as they liked.
“We found that during the limited email use week, participants experienced significantly lower daily stress than during the unlimited email use week,” the researchers wrote. “Lower stress, in turn, predicted higher well-being on a diverse range of well-being outcomes.”
The moral of the story: Check your email less frequently for a more peaceful existence. Impossible, you say? Here are five strategies to make it happen.
1. Set times to check your email (and stay off it between). As any high-level manager or busy parent knows, good time management is crucial for keeping daily life under control. It can also help with handling your email woes. The average person checks his email 15 times per day according to the British Columbia study, but as the study showed, limiting it to three times a day can be a game-changer.
Say you will commit to checking your email and responding to messages once in the morning, once in the afternoon and once at night (unless you have a job that demands immediate responses, in which case, use this strategy for your personal email account).
2. Try a step-down approach. Habits take time to break. If the three-times-a-day rule induces panic, aim to step down your email activity a little each day. Analyze how often you check your email now, and aim to reduce it by one time each day until you hit the goal of three times a day.
Related: Putting Down My Phone: A Resolution
3. Set your phone to buzz for important messages. One of the nice things about today’s smartphones is that they keep you connected to your email no matter where you are. But that’s also one of their shortcomings.
There’s a way to address that problem. By default, many mobile operating systems, like Apple’s iOS or Google’s Android, alert you every time you receive an email. If you go into your mail preferences, however, you can modify when you receive alerts. In Apple’s iOS, for instance, you can set up a “VIP” roster of people whose emails are most important to you. From there, you can set the notifications in your iPhone to alert you only when you receive a message from a VIP. Similarly, Android lets you change how and when you receive email alerts.
4. Store documents and files elsewhere. For many people, email is more than just a tool to communicate with others — it’s also a repository for files. With services like Microsoft’s Outlook, Yahoo Mail, and Google’s Gmail all providing ample storage, it’s easy to keep documents in your inbox to access later. But that of course means another visit to your inbox.
As soon as you receive an attachment via email, download it to a folder on your computer. The next time you need to access the file, go to the folder rather than your inbox.
5. Ask yourself if email is best. There are other ways toget in touch with people, after all. The fewer emails you send — and reply to — the fewer emails you’ll receive. Studies show the average email conversation includes five messages. Stop the thread by picking up the phone or walking to your colleague’s desk instead of replying.
Ultimately, reducing email fatigue comes down to one thing: self-discipline. Once you get used to checking your email less often, you may never look back.
Related: The 5-Step Digital Diet Plan