Remember when you controlled your inbox? You would receive an email from a newsletter that you actually remember signing up for. Or you might receive that occasional email from the handful of friends who used Hotmail.
The email inbox was a calm and quiet receptacle of welcomed messages, perhaps interrupted only by a beautiful and exhilarating sound. Email was manageable and fun.
Inboxes are no longer manageable nor fun. They are out of control. It's time to punch your inbox in the face.
A few years ago, Basecamp's Jason Fried asked the perfect question from the stage at Big Omaha, a conference about entrepreneurship in Omaha, Neb.: "When did our inboxes become a dumping ground for other people's to-do lists?" I recall him saying. He was right. Whether someone works at a big corporation, a small startup or even on family affairs, inboxes have become the place for passing the buck.
As email became ubiquitous, it turned into a primary form of communication for many, replacing the telephone and face-to-face discussion. What's the major difference between email and the phone or face-to-face communication? It's emotionless.
It's much easier to ask for a favor, reassign a task or place blame via email because there's no emotion. It's not possible to hear someone's voice or look into that person's eyes.
Let's not take the easy way out.
How do people stop it? Email can be a tsunami, an unstoppable force that people can only hope to survive. And when they do, they strive to reach the hard-to-attain inbox zero.
1. Setting boundaries
A friend of mine has this message as his auto-responder to all emails in his inbox.
I check my email every few hours ... be patient.
The shorter your message the quicker I'll respond.
The first time I received this response I felt a bit disrespected and that he was being rude. How does he not have time for my email? Then I realized. This is brilliant.
Set email boundaries. Do you check email first thing in the morning, at lunch and at the end of the day? Do you work on emails only from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m.? Or do you only check email on Tuesdays and Thursdays? Only you know what would work best for you but boundaries are crucial.
2. Don't exceed expectations.
I often tell members of my team at my company, Lemonly, to not set false email expectations. Certainly, we want to deliver great service and practice quick communication with clients, but when employees respond to emails at 10:30 p.m. or Sunday afternoons, they just made it acceptable for clients to email at those times. Plus, customers might then expect a response on Sundays going forward.
Some companies have gone as far as banning email before 6 a.m. and after 6 p.m. This eases the email burden on employees and eliminates the pressure of trying to catch up or get ahead. A German car company, Daimler, has installed software that deletes emails for people while they're on vacation or out of the office. Daimler is protecting its team from the email tsunami. Everyone should do the same.
3. Write better emails.
Maybe you're writing poor emails. Are they too long? Too short? What's the perfect length for an email?
Guy Kawasaki said, "Less than five sentences is often abrupt and rude, more than five sentences wastes time." The author and founder of All-Top said, "Proper email is a balance between politeness and succinctness."
Rethink email writing. Be polite, yet succinct.
4. Let it go.
Stop treating email like the most important thing in life. Don't let your inbox dictate your day. Those little red notification numbers do not dictate your success or failure.
Punch that inbox in the face and get on with your life.
Related: 7 Ways to Detox Your Inbox