How to get LESS EMAIL (praise God & hallelujah!)

 

It’s been reported that the average ‘professional’ (whatever THAT means) receives about 100 emails a day. Some researchers argue that 50 emails a day is all we can really handle, before our brains start to get kooky.

Numbers & theories aside, I think we can all agree: email overload is reaching a fever pitch. And not a good fever, like disco or cowbell. A bad fever. Like typhoid.

Me? I’m perpetually refining my relationship with email.

Some days, email is my friend — a beautiful tool to expedite & amplify my work in the world.
Other days, email is not my (best) friend — more like a problem to solve, or a mole to be whacked.
And other days, I feel like throwing my laptop out the window & making a home for myself inside a tree by Walden Pond.

I’ve dedicated a lot of time to thinking about how to organize emails, prioritize emails, and respond to emails faster. But lately, I’ve been considering a more interesting question: how can I GET less email, in the first place?

Here are my latest ideas. Are they revolutionary concepts? Not really. Are they valid, important reminders? I think so. And if you agree, I hope you email me & tell me allllll about it. (Just kidding. Commmmmpletely. ;)
 

7 ways to get LESS EMAIL:

 

1. Send fewer emails.

 
I know, right? This is the BIG (and most obvious) one. If you want to get fewer emails, send fewer emails. Simple. Done.
 

2. Unsubscribe from things you don’t need (or read.)

 
And that includes my weekly musings. You have my blessing. 1,000%. Do it.
 

3. Don’t answer emails (right away). Or ever.

 
A lot of “urgent emails” tend to resolve themselves. Case in point:

About once or twice a day, I’ll get a frantic email from a lovely human who says something like, “Alex! ZOMG! I bought one of your products & I think I downloaded it wrong, or lost it, or something. Can you send it to me, again?”

And then, 90% of the time, if I wait an hour or two and DO NOTHING AT ALL, that same person writes back and says, “Alex! ZOMG! I found it. My bad. Nevermind!”

Problem = solved. It’s like the original email nevvvver existed.
 

4. Create boundaries & pathways … that don’t lead to your inbox.

 
If you’re a blogger or entrepreneur, you might have a contact form on your website. But not all contact forms are created equal.

If you peek at my contact page, you’ll notice that I re-direct folks to various spots on my website, encouraging them to “help themselves” … before asking for my help.

Not everybody reads (or follows) my little encouragements. But most people do. And for that, I am (deeply) grateful.
 

5. Be freakishly succinct.

 
Lately, I’ve been experimenting with answering emails in the style of a haiku, or in just three sentences. (I don’t always succeed, but the intention shines through.)

When you are freakishly succinct, other people tend to mirror your style. It also makes “clearing your inbox” feel like a playful game — instead of a chore. Poetry for the win!
 

6. Respond with declarations, not questions.

 
If you conclude an email with “What time do you think we should have dinner?” or “What price feels good for you?” or “How do you think we should proceed, from here?” … you will generate more emails, with more questions, requiring your continued thought & attention.

Instead of an open-ended question, try ending your emails with a clear declaration: “7pm.” “$500.” “Let’s reconnect in one week. I’ll call you at 10am next Monday.”

People will be grateful for your precision. (I know I am!)
 

7. Model the behavior that you’d like to see.

 
This goes for emails, and like … everything ever.

If you make a habit of emailing friends, colleagues (or even total strangers) asking for “advice” on things you could prrrrrobably Google, yourself … then others will prrrrrobably do the same, to you.

If you write long, rambling, jigsaw-puzzle-esque emails … then you’ll get responses that are equally mystifying.

But! If you are graceful, concise & articulate … well, you know the rest.
 

To paraphrase our ol’ buddy, Dr. Phil:

You teach people how to treat you. (Including how to email you.)

 
So, be a clear & consistent teacher. Your inbox (and psyche) will thank you.

XO.

How do YOU feel about email — and how do you handle the ever-flowing stream?

Any techniques, philosophies or magic spells to share?

 
 

Comments

Oh, so true! We DO teach people how to treat (email) us. I’ve been unsubscribing like a mad woman lately, but it’s tough when the person knows you personally. I had someone actually call me out on unsubscribing recently – sheesh!

I’m going to have to test out letting things resolve themselves. It’s so hard not to be reactionary about that (1) – or (17) – in your inbox.

Hi Nicole! I just left a more detailed comment at the bottom, but if you make a sub-folder titled “Newletter Duds” or whatever you wanted to call it and have your email settings skip your inbox and route straight to your “Newsletter dud” folder, no one will ever know you don’t read their stuff, plus you won’t get bothered by it (you can even “hide” your subfolders so you never see them). It’s great and no feelings get hurt :)

How to get LESS EMAIL (praise God & hallelujah!):   It’s been reported that the average ‘pro… http://t.co/gDhr5ycgCT via @Alex_Franzen

How to get LESS EMAIL (praise God & hallelujah!) http://t.co/lMU6RWd5OX via @Alex_Franzen

I’ve had a clear inbox for over two months now. Granted, I’m not working very much so am not receiving that many in the first place.

My tip: If they can be responded to in a few lines on my phone, I’ll write back straight away. If they need some thought/depth I’ll file them in the appropriate folder and flag/star them.

Then, when I have some time during the day/week I just click on my flagged items and have access to all the emails I need to action. Simply unstar when I’ve replied/dealt with the issue. It’s working for me, and is a vast improvement on having pages of emails clogging up your inbox, all “reminding” you that you need to reply. As you say, some of the time.. you don’t.

Great tips! Good luck!

I started making “sub-folders” and filters for EVERYTHING and it has been glorious. This way all my emails for a certain client will route straight into their folder (skipping my inbox), and even have a folder for newsletters (so I can just click on that folder once a week/month/whenever I decide I feel like reading), groupons/living socials, social media notifications, ALL these bad boys go into their own lil’ subfolder. This way my inbox gets very little clutter throughout the day. When I know it’s time for client x, y, or z I just click on their folder and get to them at one time. Sounds simple enough but it took me years of crazy to finally come up with this system :)

Ha, I do the same thing with people emailing me frantically that the $1 book of mine they bought didn’t download to all 18 of their devices… if I just don’t answer it for a day they figure it out.

afadmin on Apr 8, 2013 Reply

Hallelujah is right Alex! Thank you! (I hope this comment isn’t going into your inbox now!)

Not only do I have boundaries for my email and social media time, but I categorise them specifically in folders on yahoo.

I only receive subscriptions from people/companies I love (that includes you!), and if I don’t have time, or it’s not important at that specific time, I put the email in its folder, unread, so when I do have time, or I fancy reading some articles, I read them when it’s appropriate.

Hope that helps!
K:)

Kelsey on Apr 8, 2013 Reply

It’s funny… I have a folder in my email called “Deal With” that I send things to… And then never, ever look at. Miraculously, the world has not ended!

I’ve also been using tip #3 with a stressy friend/employer, who will often send me “911″ texts like “I know you said you can’t work Saturday, but could you work Saturday? From 9 am to midnight? It’s life or death!!”

I used to scramble around revamping my schedule. Now I just wait, and breathe, and 9/10 I get the “never mind!” A little while later :)

YEEEEEEEEEES! This post made me smile :)
I just got an email from a team member on a project advising a list of probably 15 “management” tools to use online…and I thought, why don’t we just email less instead? Perfect timing, thanks Alex :)
xo
N

Mailbox app has been a lifesaver…
and the principal of dealing with an email ONCE and only once. If you are going to read it – process it. If you might need it later – archive it or put it in a subfolder, and search for it later when you need it.
Mailbox app can process an email for “later” (or next week, or next month, or someday), and so it pops back into your inbox when you are ready for it.
I also have set my macmail to check for email only once every hour. This has been the hugest time saver! instead of checking as soon as i see the little red “new email” icon, that icon only appears every hour, and I can process a batch of emails at once, and not constantly throughout the day.

Along with your not responding immediately… don’t answer emails on weekends… unless you want to work weekends. You teach people that they can reach you anytime…. all the time.

Yes, yes and yes. I am waiting for my Mailbox App (in line) and I use the Email Game for gmail AND I just hired a VA to whence all non-critical emails will now be funnelled. I’m on the road all the time so email gets mental and I’m SO over it. Love this roundup Alex!!

I periodically have to unsubscribe…often from things I don’t remember why I subscribed to in the first place!

Then, they begin to build up and I try to get on top of it before it gets out of control again.

Really not a system, but it’s much better than it used to be.
;)

I do the same thing! I’ve subscribed to the same NL upto 3 times before because I had forgotten why I liked it in the first place! Then was rightfully sold into subscribing again. It goes to show that list building is a continuous craft.

Email warps my brain
My inbox runneth over
Take me to the beach

Carol Busch on Apr 9, 2013 Reply

Great tips! For me, email is a lifesaver because my time waster issues stem from phone hogs. Often people call – under the guise of “wanting to schedule an appointment” – it then turns into them trying to hold me hostage on the phone while they try to squeeze a freebie out of me (they start out by asking for “my advice” – translation = free tarot reading).

Directing people to my site/email via my answering machine has saved me HOURS of wasted phone time and it has eliminated almost 99% of the freebie seekers. I can easily and quickly bang out a few sentences in seconds – and it usually leads to a scheduled appointment. :)

At the beginning.
I must say this advice rocks.
As I continue.

So thank you to all.
I’ll continue to practice…
Every word I preach ;)

One sweet way to apply #2: search for the word “unsubscribe” in your email-land, choose which ones to keep. Done.

Awesome!

Perfect timing as always. Thank YOU!

Unsubscribe from this NL? .. duh

I thought of another idea! How about creating an autoresponder with some pre-thought out answers, especially to the ZOMG emails. Then if you get a 2nd or 3rd email from the same person, you can consider emailing them back. And another good one: before people hit send in your website contact form, they get the disclaimer that you check email once a week at a specific time and they can expect a response accordingly! (I might have borrowed the 2nd tip from Tim Feriss but it’s one of the tips that really stuck to me from the 4hr blog!

I have been struggling with emails a lot over the past few months. For a while I just redirected almost everything to new folders – ones that I haven’t opened since. I’ve just gone back to tackling the inbox head-on and it’s clear I need to do some unsubscribing but I’m finding it so difficult as I am very particular about what I subscribe to in the first place. Anyway, got to get back to digging through the inbox.

but then you make me wanna write you an email – just to get a haiku answer ;)

These tips rock. I particularly like number five – I have a tendency to write email essays (why?!). If I can keep the point on Twitter, I can do it on email. Thanks, Alex.

Three sentences, people. Genius. Thank you.

A year or so ago I set off with that zero email goal. Twas seriously out of control, deleted hundreds & unsubscribed like crazy but it proved a HUGE challenge to keep up with over time, a never-ending battle. Those that get redirected to new folders might as well have been deleted. As the feed continues with a vengeance, rare for me to open those redirects.

Hells yeah! Do I need this!!
How to get LESS EMAIL (praise God & hallelujah!) via @alex_franzen #mustread #doitnow http://t.co/VaKE9DAvUm

This is wonderful advice. As someone who can get (very) anxious about the amount emails in my inbox, I’m so thankful for this lighthearted yet wise post. Can’t wait to give these tips a good go.

What brilliant advice. Thanks Alexandra :)

This is tremendous stuff! Thank you for your input.

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