Why emails are killing you (and how to survive)

Why emails are killing you (and how to survive)

I always want to achieve more. What I have learned in the past few months is to minimize distraction. Interestingly, what I have figured out, that one thing is responsible for 80% of my distractions. And that is: emails. Believe it or not, emails are killing you. Email is one of the largest sources of distraction, increasing stress level, declining productivity and it makes you feel more overwhelmed than you really are.

Psychologist Ron Friedman told Business Insider, that “the reason it can feel overwhelming to find lots of emails in your work inbox is that each message represents another demand on your time and another decision you have to make. The higher the number of demands placed on you, the more likely you are to experience stress, which impacts your ability to think and communicate clearly. Each time this happens your brain is forced to make a series of decisions (Check email or keep going? Respond now or later?) that drain your mental energy.

email flood

A research in 2010 done by Harris Interactive has figured out, how the number of emails affects people’s stress level. The survey showed, that 94% of people said the most amount of email they can receive before feeling some degree of stress is 50 messages. People are started to become more and more frustrated after receiving an average of 50 emails a day. (How many emails do you receive a day?)

At the beginning of the 2010’s years, researchers who followed a group of 30 government employees in the US found that 83% became more stressed while using email, rising to 92% when speaking on the phone and using email at the same time. Although receiving a single message was no more stressful than answering one phone call or talking to someone face-to-face, emails had a stronger effect overall because people received so many each day. Stress levels, analyzed by saliva samples as well as heart rate and blood pressure monitors over a 24-hour period, peaked at points in the day when people’s inboxes were fullest, the study found.

All these researched showed that emails are a significant factor in your productivity.

If you cannot manage your inbox, you will get frustrated, which will influence your career, health, and life.

Here are 6 steps how I manage my inbox, and I hope it can help you also!

But before you jump in, I would like you to understand 2 main concepts:

If you have a chance, read these theories. But basically long story short: manage yourself, instead of managing your emails, or let your emails manage you! 


1.      Get rid of the noise

How many unnecessary emails do you receive a day? If you are the same kind of person than I am, you always want to learn and be up to date with the newest trends, technologies, innovations, etc. You subscribe interesting newsletters, podcast, etc., which will flood your inbox. On one hand, it is great, because you will be on the top of the curve, but on the other hand, it can be a distraction nightmare.

The task is reducing the number of newsletters/updates what you receive. Take your time and review your subscriptions every 3 months. If you have not read a newsletter for a long time, unsubscribe. Turn off, or move your Facebook/Instagram/blog, etc. notifications out of your inbox (except my newsletters :D).

You can use applications like unroll.me. With unroll.me you can manage your subscriptions in one place, and it also has one more really great feature. It can collect all your incoming newsletters and send those out on a daily or even weekly basis. This way you will not miss any newsletter, just receive them whenever you want in one email. I really love this application.



2. Do not read emails twice

On the Trello blog, it has been summarized, how you can deal the best way with your incoming emails. I have also read about this method in Getting Things Done, and I decided to follow these rules. Using this 4 steps method saved me at least one hour per day.

  • Delete
    • Will you never need to refer to this email again? Delete it. Or archive it so that it leaves your inbox and you can search for it later if need be. The key to this step and the following three is to never keep read email in your inbox.
  • Delegate
    • Are you the best person for this email request? If not, forward it to someone who is. You don’t need to be a manager to delegate. Remember, just because you’re capable of doing something, doesn’t mean that you should be doing it.
  • Defer
    • Will this message takes a few minutes to reply? Do you need to find other files to attach to this email? Put a label on it or place it in a separate folder so you can deal with it AFTER you’ve gone through the rest of your new messages in your inbox.
  • Do
    • Does this email need a quick reply? Can you respond in less than 2 minutes? Don’t waste your time by putting this message somewhere else. If it’s super quick to process, do it right now and get on with the rest of your email.

do_defer_delegate_delete, the 4D method


3. Check your inbox less time

Psychologists warn constant email notifications are ‘toxic source of stress’. “There’s no question that constantly checking email is bad for both productivity and quality of life,” Friedman adds. “There have been some fascinating studies showing that limiting email-checking to a few times a day — say, at 9am, 12pm, and 4pm — improves well-being and makes work feel more controllable.”

A study done by researchers at the University of British Columbia examined the effects of checking email only three times a day. In this experiment, participants in two groups sent and received the same amount of email, but while one group was asked to check email as often as they wanted, the other only checked their inbox three times a day. The groups then switched to the opposite task the next week. Researchers monitored the stress levels of both groups.
The results might surprise you. When participants were in the group that checked their email just three times a day, they reported feeling less stressed. Their stress levels were measured to be equal to that of other well-known relaxation techniques like breathing exercises and meditation.
Additionally, from a sheer numbers perspective, the 3x/day group was spending on average 20% less time in their inboxes. As a result, they were able to spend more time on more important tasks throughout their week.
The important factor is that all participants were dealing with the same amount of email as they normally would; the difference was simply how many times a day they interfaced with it. By dealing with email less frequently, participants felt a significant reduction in stress which again, allowed them to be more efficient and effective with their time.

Even U.S. Workers Spend 6.3 Hours A Day Checking their emails.

To reduce this source of distraction, and change your habit, you can do these 3 things:

  • Simply do not open your email account, only once or twice a day.
  • If you open your email account, do not leave it open. Close whenever you have finished handling your emails.
  • Turn off email notifications.

Email is not for project management. If an email thread is more than 5 email exchange long, try to solve the problem another way.

  • Use a phone to discuss the question which you are emailing about. It can be easier and faster.
  • Use project management tools (Jira, Slack, etc.) to track who does what and when etc. Do not use email for project management.


4. Archive/Delete unnecessary emails

You won’t miss an important email again if you archive or delete unnecessary emails.

Clearing your inbox avoids multiple handling of emails and shorten the numbers of emails in your inbox.
If you do not need an email anymore, simply delete that. If you think it can be useful in the future, simply archive it. If you archive an email, it will stay in your inbox, it will be searchable, you will simple not see it anymore.


5. Organize! Use labels, folders, etc.

I am going to write an article about how to use labels effectively to handle your incoming emails.
Long story short: If you have decided that you need to do anything with this email (as it has been stated in the 2nd point), create a label for them to make sure, you can focus on these emails.


6. Automate everything

You can find hundreds of Gmail plugins for example to help your email handling. Try the ones, which looks good for you. The main goal is to focus and deal less and less time with email handling.
I use 1 app and 1 function which already saved me a ton of time.

One is the built-in„Pause Inbox” in Gmail. When you hit this button, you will not receive any email. If you activate your inbox again, all of the emails will land in your inbox, so no worries, you will not lose any message.

Boomerang for Gmail

Boomerang is the other Application which I use frequently. For me, it is ideal for follow-ups. Using this app is quite simple. If I send out an email, which I really want an answer, or it has a task with a dues date, I use Boomerang to send me this email back in a given day, for example in 2 days. In 2 days, I will see this email again as a received one in my inbox at the top of my emails. Emails can be sent out to all the recipients in the email thread, or it can be sent only for myself, as a reminder. This way I will see this time-sensitive emails only at that time when these are relevant because as soon as I „boomeranged” the email, it will be hidden.


Hope I could help you with my tips. I am also interested in how you deal with your inbox. Please share your tricks, and also comment, what you think would be the most helpful help for you?


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