How I Conquered 200+ Emails Per Day and Reclaimed My Writing Time

My name is Carol Tice and I’m an email addict.

(You: “Hi Carol!”)

Here is the story of how email overwhelm nearly ruined both my freelance writing and personal lives, and how I slayed the email dragon and returned to sanity.

I’ve been writing since the days when email first began. And I loved it, right away.

It was so fun to come in, click that little ‘send and receive’ button, and get messages from people all over the world!

Until one day, it wasn’t so much fun anymore.

Drowning in email

I always got a decent volume of email. As a reporter, I subscribe to a lot of newsletters and like to read widely to look for sources and story ideas.

As my freelance career grew, I had more and better-quality clients. I felt the need to read even more widely to be on top of all their topics.

With my reputation on the rise and my visibility growing online, tastier leads would pop in on email. I needed to check frequently in case I missed a great opportunity!

In 2008, I started this blog. In 2010, I got on Twitter. And in 2011, I launched a membership community for writers.

Each of these additions brought more email — from blog subscribers and community members. I felt obligated to be “on top” of these emails and be responsive to my readers and paying community members.

But things quickly got out of control. My day often looked like this:

  • 8-9 am. Arrive at office. Pick up email and watch as 150 new messages load up. Spend 90 minutes to 2 hours responding.
  • 10:30 am. Get to end of emails and decide to check one last time for email. Get 50 more emails.
  • 12 pm. Time for lunch.
  • 1 pm. Respond to more emails.
  • 2 pm. Start to panic as I realize I am getting nothing researched or written.
  • 3 pm. Kids arrive home from school. Cry softly, as productive writing time is gone.
  • 8 pm. Kids have gone to bed. I return to email. 40 more messages. Husband: “Could we watch Walking Dead now, honey?” “In a bit, I’ve got to answer these emails first, and I need to just write this one blog post I couldn’t get to today…”
  • 11 pm. Husband gives up and goes to sleep.

Email was killing my productivity like a deranged maniac in a horror movie. It wasn’t so great for my relationships, either.

Clearly, this had to stop. But how?

Over the past few months, I’ve taken some drastic steps to cut my email time. Now, I’m down to perhaps an hour a day, and don’t feel the need to check it more than perhaps three times a day.

Below are the steps I took to get my email back under control. Buckle up — this process took months, and this is a lengthy post.

1. Analysis

First off, I set out to study my email. How much was there a day? What types of messages did I get? When did they arrive?

How urgent were they, really?

In looking critically at my email over several weeks, I came to a few quick conclusions:

  • Most of my emails arrive before 10 a.m. The rest of the day, email volume is low.
  • Total messages per day were often north of 200.
  • Emails rarely contain truly urgent information.
  • I get a lot of junk or low-value email.

Armed with these insights, I began to take action. My first area of focus was to kill email at its source.

2. Unsubscribe

My first course of action was to begin taking the time to unsubscribe to every newsletter I received that was no longer of interest.

Over the years, my beats have changed. But I was still getting news on dozens of niches I’m not currently covering — healthcare, real estate, technology, and more.

I took a week and unsubscribed like mad. I replied to PR pitches and asked the agency to take me off their list.

The result was amazing. Immediately, my volume of email shrank by about 40 percent.

This only made me hungry for more. What else could I do to reduce the amount of incoming mail?

3. Unsubscribe (the social media edition)

Besides news emails, I was receiving a ton of social-media notices. Each LinkedIn group I belonged to was sending an email each day. Facebook would hit me every time someone replied to a comment I left. Each tweet was also an email.

Think daily or weekly digests instead of per-action updates

Then there was the blog and community side. I got a notice every time someone unsubscribed to my blog, or lost their password for the community platform.

This was the second wave of wasted time. These notices were unnecessary because I ended up visiting my social sites usually at least once a day anyway! And on the blog/community side, I didn’t really need to monitor all these stats

It was a little time-consuming and tiresome to go onto each platform and learn how to turn off notifications. But once I did, the effect was incredible. I could get 10 emails from Mailchimp a day before. Now, I get one daily digest of activity on my blog email list. Magic!

Not only did I spend less time on email, but each social notice tempted me to go waste time on social media. Without them, I could turn my attention to my own agenda.

4. Declare email bankruptcy

I tend to be a string-gatherer in my quest for good blog-post ideas and story ideas for my freelance clients. There are dozens of newsletters I do still want to sift through. And they do pile up in my Newsletters email folder.

Then I’d feel obligated to read them. I’d feel like I couldn’t kick back for the night, because those newsletters were calling me!

Particularly when it came to my blog, I was obsessed with learning more about how to improve it. So I’d read and read.

This came to a head when I went on vacation in December with a goal of reading 160 accumulated newsletters while I was on vacation.

Obviously, that’s not much of a vacation.

So I did something else instead. I’d heard about celebrities and tech CEOs doing this when they got overwhelmed with email, so I gave it a try.

I simply deleted the whole file. All 160 messages. Buh-bye.

Then I went and spent the day walking around L.A. Farmer’s Market instead, enjoying window shopping in the winter sunshine.

Immediately, it was like a 100-pound weight was lifted from my shoulders.

There’s always more we can learn…but we can only learn so much. Sometimes, we have to do our work. And sometimes, we need to relax.

Once I got OK with killing off newsletters I’d saved, I wanted to take it up another level. Why was I saving so many newsletters I’d never have time to read?

5. Take the subject-line test

I used to feel an obligation to open a lot of my emails and read a bit before deciding whether to delete. No more.

Now, I read the subject line, and if I suspect it’s something I don’t need to read, I delete it right then.

We all have favorite blogs we read, but if they post daily, I realized, I don’t necessarily need to read every post they put up.

I used to save emails automatically because they were from X blog or newsletter. Now, I read the subject, and try to be realistic about whether this is a current topic of interest. If it’s not something I need to learn about or plan to write about in the short term — zap! — it’s gone.

6. Delete the ‘rules’

One thing I’d had recommended to me a while back was to have email folders and then set up rules that would automatically route email to the appropriate folder.

This is supposed to save you time, but in my case it wasted even more time.

The theory is that with this system, only important emails would show up in my main inbox, and I could put off looking at the other emails until later.

Except that I couldn’t. I’d chase around through nearly a dozen folders, trying to see where new emails had gone! Were they something time-critical that had accidentally gone the wrong place?

To fix this, I’ve turned off all email rules. All emails come initially into my main inbox.

I look through, and if there is something I want to save in a folder for future reading, I file it there, just like I used to do when I was a secretary. This gave me the confidence that I knew where things were and they were safely put away where they’d be useful later.

When it’s time to do my blog for Forbes, for instance, I go to that folder and presto — there are all the leads I have about franchising and entrepreneurship, the theme of my blog for them.

7. Don’t double-read

I often couldn’t resist the urge to read a bit of each incoming email, even if the message was clearly meant for a project or topic I knew I wouldn’t write about for days or even weeks yet.

Then, when it was time to deal with that topic, I’d end up having to read it again. By that time, I’d forgotten what it was about!

Killing this habit saved another chunk of time. Now, if the subject line tells me it’s for a subject that’s not on my schedule today, I throw it in the appropriate folder unread and don’t open it until that client is on the agenda.

8. Kill without reading

I used to feel obligated to open and read a bit of an email before deciding whether to delete it. This habit also had to go.

Now, I read the subject line, and if it doesn’t seem vital to any aspect of my freelance or blogging life, I delete it unopened.

This freaked me out at first, but now it’s become routine. I think of these like marketing calls you get on the phone — just hang up. Just because they emailed me doesn’t mean I have to devote time to their message.

9. Switch to ‘unread only’ mode

Looking at hundreds of emails sitting in my inbox always made me feel behind. Don’t these need to be dealt with?

I’ve solved this by putting all my folders into ‘unread only’ view.

Now, if I have responded to or read an email, it ‘disappears’ from view.

It’s still around in case I need to search it up again, but I don’t have to look at it sitting there. This makes me feel ‘done’ with email and ready to return to other tasks.

10. Strive for ‘inbox zero’

Bliss = “There are no unread messages in this folder.”

Inbox Zero is a concept created by entrepreneur Merlin Mann. The idea is that we should clear our inboxes each day.

Otherwise, the accumulation of email nags at us and makes us feel we have unfinished tasks on email.

I began to strive for this. When I review a batch of email, I want to either delete, file, or respond to each message. This ‘clean plate’ approach is very liberating.

I feel done! And ready to move on to another task.

I don’t always get all the way there — as I speak I have an unread item or two in my inbox — but it’s good to try.

11. Pick up in large batches

There’s a basic productivity issue with picking up email constantly — it’s inefficient. Each time we stop to deal with email, our focus goes away from an important task of writing or conceptualizing articles or blog posts or doing marketing or creating courseware.

I used to pick up email frequently. OK, really frequently. Really, really frequently.

Doing my data analysis and looking at how email wasted my time, I saw this was a big mistake.

I started to lengthen out the time between checks.

Now, if I pick up and there are fewer than 10 emails, I’m mad at myself. I’d prefer to deal with 30 or more at a time — it’s way more efficient.

With my data on when emails arrive, I came up with an email schedule that works for me.

I pick up once at 8 or 9 am, which catches the bulk of my email. Using all the techniques above, it now takes me perhaps a half-hour to process my email, at most.

I might check again mid-morning if it seems like a busy day.

From there, I really only need to check once or twice more in the day. I might check while I’m eating lunch, or at the end of the work day, or once in the evening. My data showed me few emails arrive in the afternoon, so now I’m confident I’m not missing a lot if I skip it.

This has cleared the afternoon as a block of newly discovered productive writing time.

12. Send less email and use EOM

Here’s a basic fact of email: Sending email tends to generate more emails in response. I started asking myself if I really needed to reply or if I could let a conversation end — or never start.

This is particularly true of spammy offers you get and other junk mailers. You might want to give them a piece of your mind, but it’s a waste of time. If you send less email, you get less email.

I also learned to write subject-line-only emails that close with (EOM) for end of message. As in, “I’m ready for our call now (EOM).”

This means there is nothing further to the email, it’s all in the subject line. So you can move on or delete after you read that line. I’ve trained my Den staff to use this, and it’s handy to cut a bit more time opening and reading emails.

The next step

I am far from done reducing my email clutter. I have yet to try any of the nifty new email-management tools out there.

One I’m intrigued by is The Swizzle — it helps you quickly unsubscribe from more emails, and turns all your remaining emails into one daily digest. Note: The Swizzle is no longer functioning.

There are many more tools out there to explore. I’m a pretty low-tech person, so initially I’ve focused on killing email at the source and being smarter in how I manage the remaining messages…but there are many approaches to take.

So far, I’d say I’ve probably liberated four hours or more a week for writing with the email-management changes I’ve made. I’m excited to see if I can reclaim even more time in the future as I keep refining my email routine.

How do you keep email time down? Leave a comment and share your strategies.

 

 

 

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58 comments on “How I Conquered 200+ Emails Per Day and Reclaimed My Writing Time
  1. Rose Johnston says:

    I’m sure some of you are already doing this: read in batches based on source email address or author.

    Notice I did mention the F word (folders).

    That’s because I’m a Gmail bigot (er … Gmail fan!). So I can let it pile up and not worry about sorting it. Just type IN:ANYWHERE and my filter reliably catches it all.

    For example, I might decide to catch up on all of my Zappo’s Digest emails in one sitting. And the next time I’ll catch up on Gerry McGovern or Jared Spool.

    Like others in this thread, for decades I’ve used separate email accounts for business, friends and family, news and downloads, etc.

    And even a shared account that my siblings and I used for all things happening with our parents eldercare. That dedicated account helped all of us keep our sanity while handing off work to each other to manage insurances, bank accounts, hospitalizations, nursing facilities, and funerals.

    • Rose Johnston says:

      CORRECTION

      Notice I did ** NOT ** mention the F word (folders).

      ADDENDUM
      And if I really, really must save something, then I either print it to PDF and save it on my hard drive; or I cross-label (cross-reference it with as many labels as needed) and archive it in Gmail.

    • Carol Tice says:

      I use Entourage and it’s easy to switch to “From” and I do that as well — might read a few weeks of one blog in a sitting. Definitely more efficient!

  2. Raspal says:

    I forgot to add the link to Steve Pavlina’s long post on reducing email. Here is it:
    http://www.stevepavlina.com/blog/2012/02/how-to-reduce-your-mail-to-almost-nothing/
    Raspal recently posted…Get 50 GB of Free Backup Space at Box.comMy Profile

  3. Raspal says:

    Hello Carol,

    I used a free, 21 day program to lessen my email. It’s much better than the Inbox Zero by Merlin Mann I think. It’s called “Revive Your Inbox” and it is a “21 Day Program to help you restore email sanity”.

    On the webpage it says as follows:

    “Invest 20 minutes a day for 21 days. Revive Your Inbox is designed to reduce the amount of email you receive and learn to deal better with the ones that matter.”

    Try it out. It’s a great free course. I even wanted to translate it into an Indian language to make it easy for helping laymen at a spiritual institution I go to.

    BTW, I’m overwhelmed by the content and the number of free ebooks from nice people like you and two other similar people who are also into writing and give away free ebooks and such courses. I’m confused as to which one to keep and if you can help me decide just one single ebook or course I should follow, it’d nice of you.

    Kind Regards,
    Raspal
    Raspal recently posted…Get 50 GB of Free Backup Space at Box.comMy Profile

    • Carol Tice says:

      Thanks for the resource on email reduction, Raspal.

      As far as your request for advice, since I don’t know who the ‘two other similar people” are or what they offer, OR where you’re at in your writing career and what your goals are, it’s hard for me to tell you what you should do.

      I pride myself on feeling my take on things is fairly unique, so I don’t know who you imagine is similar!

      • Raspal says:

        One of the other two I was talking about are – Ali Luke (Hale) who also gives out free ebooks on writing, on her blog and also has a 6 week course like you have, on dailywritingtips.com. The other guy is also a writer at dailywritingtips along with Ali Luke and has his own blog at dailyblogtips.com from where I found about Ali too. The problem, tho about the course or the paid ebooks was that I couldn’t pay using paypal as it’s not possible from India. This is a restriction in India by the ndian Reserve Bank. And there is no other option to pay for either the course or the ebook.

        I’ll have to explain in more detail to get your proper suggestion as you said you don’t know where in the writing career I am at, so I think I’d write an email to you about this in a little detail.

        BTW, I try not to check my email the first thing in the morning. Instead I check my todo list and start doing the things listed on it. Then later in the day, I check email. This helps in being productive. I think this was a tip either in the Revive Your Inbox course or may be it was a tip from Steve Pavlina I had read.
        Raspal recently posted…How do you take a backup of a computer which does not even boot or start Windows?My Profile

  4. If I mentioned everything that struck a chord with me, this comment would be as long as the original post. (Yes, I read the full post AND all the previous comments, AND I’m subscribing to “follow-up” notifications–spank me.) This month, I’m experimenting with a system I don’t think anyone has mentioned yet: I check the box only once a day, and start by setting a timer for one hour. Then I do a quick scan of the headings to see what’s important enough to follow up on immediately–allowing myself a maximum of five minutes to write any one reply needed (perhaps the biggest time-waster for me is trying to cover every possible detail in replies and comments, then rereading and proofreading the whole thing several times). After dealing with those “Priority A’s,” I work my way through the rest chronologically, starting with the oldest. When the timer goes off, whatever message I’m working on then is the day’s last message–no excuses allowed. Too soon in the game to be sure what effect this system will have in the long term, but I can say at least that my backlog so far is holding to a comfortable level.

    I haven’t yet gotten so far as to have the nerve to delete most messages *completely* unread, though I’m doing better at not feeling obligated to cover most of the social-media ones to the point of near memorization. I wouldn’t have the nerve to try for “Mailbox Zero” until I get past that issue; most of my addiction’s ill effects (especially the number of times it made me late for something) were due to a mentality that was determined to combine MZ with reading and replying to everything!

    (Now, having spent so much time on the original MALW message once everything is counted, I will at least be good enough not to reread this before posting it!)
    Katherine Swarts recently posted…Judging a Book By Its CoverMy Profile

    • Carol Tice says:

      I’d love to develop the discipline to only check once a day…I’m definitely not there yet.

      On the other hand, I can get through my morning lump of email, which is the majority of the day’s influx, in about 20 minutes now, thanks to unsubscribing like mad, and then deleting unread anything without a subject line that screams “you really need this.”

  5. Jennifer Goslee says:

    I’d suggest that you look into setting up RSS feeds from the sites that you want to follow. This keeps “things I’d like to read” distinct from “communications to me”. You also can flip through items, seeing the first paragraph or so in the reader, using the J button to skip. It’s easy to skim through all the stuff that comes up in a day in half an hour to an hour. And if you don’t have that time, let it build up and go through it once a week. Most websites, including most blogs, can be read using RSS feeds.

    • Carol Tice says:

      I do have some feeds, and recommend that as another great way to avoid email. Somehow, scanning your feeds doesn’t feel like you ‘have’ to click and read those, the same as tweets. As compared to emails, which seem to demand we read them!

  6. Edward says:

    I can find myself in this post. For a long time I subscribed to everything I thought was interesting to grow my business.
    Like you I spend way to much time reading all the mails.
    What I also found is that a lot of emails are about a subject that is “hot” at that moment.
    Like you I deleted many accounts and am only subscribed to the one that gives value and not just fluff.
    I still have a hotmail account for when I think that it is not really worth to put it on my main account and check that once a week.
    And just like you I read the subject line and then decide to deleted right away or not.
    I think I am on the right way to stop reading to many emails.
    Thanks for sharing your thoughts
    Edward
    Edward recently posted…Speed reading tipsMy Profile

    • Carol Tice says:

      The multiple accounts thing sort of scares me — I think I’d just ending up checking more things more often!

      But the switch in attitude to deleting unread for me was huge.

      Just this morning I deleted a bunch of newsletters unread. I no longer care about the reputation of the blog or how much I love this newsletter — just whether this topic is the one on my mind right now. So I see they’re blogging today about Writer’s Block and I think, “That’s not me. That’s not my issue,” and zap — it’s gone.

  7. Oh my gosh – this was sooooooo me about a year ago 🙂 At one point, my email inbox had over 3,000 unread messages in it… I’m sure I lost a ton of time and productivity because just looking at that number (not actually *doing* anything about it) made me feel so overwhelmed.

    I’m actually at Inbox Zero now, and there are three things that have made it possible for me to keep this up:

    1. Switching to Gmail (love the easy inbox/archive feature, the fact that I don’t have to delete anything and that I can manage multiple accounts from the same login)

    2. Playing the “Email Game” by Baydin, which made it fun to weed through backlogged email messages (just wish it worked for platforms other than Google)

    3. Signing up for Sanebox to manage incoming messages. It’s a paid service, but it’s pretty cheap for something that does such a great job of letting only priority messages into my inbox.

    I’m still not as good as I’d like to be about only checking email during certain times, but it’s all about the baby steps, right??
    Sarah Russell recently posted…How I Trick Myself into Being ProductiveMy Profile

  8. Amel says:

    I have two e-mail addresses. One is for subscriptions, junk mail, and filtering leads. Anything important (like a new client) gets forwarded to my “real” e-mail. I used to have three e-mail addresses for even stricter filtering but found it was too time-consuming to check them all. I use the “real” e-mail for conducting business. The in-box is, for the most part, filled with good news and things I am eager to work on.

    I have folders for each of my clients and store each e-mail in the appropriate folder. If something is in my in-box, it means that this is an e-mail I need to take action on – either by deleting it, filing it, or responding to it. I feel a lot more productive when my in-box is empty. With my junk e-mail address, I do not bother to delete or organize anything in it. I rarely read newsletters and will only click if the subject line is of particular interest.

    I rarely respond to an e-mail after 9 PM and do not answer most of my e-mails immediately (unless I am working on a project that requires it). Instead I answer several e-mails at once, typically every 3 to 4 days.

    So far, this system is working okay for me. You can’t earn a living checking e-mail and blog posts all day, so it is important not to let these things dominate your time and destroy your business.
    Amel recently posted…Another 25 Markets to Explore if You Want to Earn 25 to 50 Cents per WordMy Profile

  9. I check my emails first thing in the morning before breakfast (so that’s no more than one hour after I wake up). Then, if I’m expecting important messages, I will check my inbox again around lunch time.

    This happens on busy days. On the other days email reading becomes a hobby of its own— not very healthy if it goes out of control. So I recently began to filter all newsletter, social media notifications and other subscription emails to specific label (folders) in my Gmail accounts, having them completely skip the inbox.

    A breath of relief! 🙂

    Now I only get important communications in my inbox (and spam, alas, when the spam filter fails).
    Luana Spinetti recently posted…Announcing Italian Writing Blog In Collaboration With Silvia GabbiatiMy Profile

  10. Patti Hale says:

    Reading emails was taking up so much of my day I put off reading them until I had a backlog of over 1000 emails. My problem is that many of the blogs I subscribe to are friends who will definitely notice if I unsubscribe (smaller blogs like mine check the names of those who unsubcribe) and I don’t want to hurt their feelings. If I delete them I’ll hurt their open rate; if I open them and go to their website quickly just to say I did I’ll hurt their bounce rate. I know I’ve got to start being a little more ruthless–particularly with those who post several times a day, saying literally nothing, lol!

  11. Allie Conner says:

    I can relate to this. I recently changed my email address and realized that I didn’t want or need to stay subscribed to so many newsletters. I went through and unsubscribed from all of them. It was so liberating!

    I’m currently re-subscribing to a couple of those newsletters that I miss including Make A Living Writing (you’re so motivating!), Be A Freelance Blogger (Sophie’s awesome!), and Boost Blog Traffic (Jon Morrow rocks!).

    Other than the three blogs above, I haven’t missed any of my regular newsletters.

  12. Terr says:

    This was a post FOR ME. I especially like when you say that we can’t be tuned in to everything. As much as my ego would love to say that I read the top fiction and non-fiction writing blogs in order to participate in exercises, I DON’T HAVE THE TIME OR THE ENERGY!

    Also, I’ve realized something else you’ve mentioned: Just because someone sends me a message or a blog post daily, this doesn’t mean that I need to respond to them daily. Some messages won’t apply to me right now. Some bloggers purposely send out messages daily in order to bulk up the daily content on their sites, for search engine purposes. I’m not a loser if I fail to respond to their daily message!

    I did what you mentioned and after seeing one of my accounts at almost 2k messages, I just went ballistic on the email delete button. Gmail has a nifty feature that allows you to get rid of a page worth of emails at a time. I cleared one of my accounts from over 2k, to 17 in around 15-20 mins! But I’ve let it build up again, because I didn’t unsubscribe from a few blogs. My three other email accounts are stacking up as well. So, it’s just time to delete and delete some more.

    I’ve made a list of my career and personal priorities for this year (So far). I’m focusing on emails that support the things on my list and THAT’S IT!. No speculative stuff. No “Maybe I can squeeze this in” stuff. I’m only one person and implementing my goals will take up a great deal of my waking hours. I don’t need to feel like a discouraged loser because I can’t keep up with everyone’s message. I. Just. Can’t.

  13. Valerie says:

    Wow! I’m feeling email overwhelm too. I never did fall for having for my email sent automatically to the correct folder for the same reason you mentioned, I know I would spend oodles of time looking for the new email in their seperate folders. I recently read an email, lol, that had tips I put to use immediately. One that you also mentioned, unsubscribe. And one made sense to me because I have different lives right now. I have one email now for all my political petition emails, another for my education emails and groups since my day job is as a substitute teacher and I earned my MAT in this wonderful economy where I am now competing for jobs with thousands of applicants, and one more for writing. I am trying to disciplin myself to 15 to 30 minutes on social media. Thanks to a new smart phone one of my inboxes was deleted. it still takes too much of my second shift to empty my inboxes. And now I read, on email, lol, that I need to comment regularly on blogs. Thanks for letting me know I’m not alone.

  14. J'aime Wells says:

    This post is inspiring me. I get too much mail from LinkedIn from all the groups I joined. Time to go over there and turn off notifications.

    • Terr says:

      Yeah, I forgot about that booger-bear too. I keep saying I want to communicate with my group members on LinkedIn but I never do. I might once a week but that’s it. I can definitely unplug from other groups. My career goals have changed, so some of those groups are irrelevant anyway.

  15. These are really great tips for reducing the email burden. It is very liberating to delete the entire inbox and I need to do it more often. I should shut off my phone alerts, too. I don’t need to hear a beep every time I get a new message in one of my four email accounts.

  16. Tom Bentley says:

    Carol, you had an immediate effect: for months, I’ve had a “New PDFs” folder on my desktop, where I’ve put LOTS of downloads on writing/marketing/blogging, stuff I’ve promised myself I’ll get to. I see the folder and I think: I’ve got to read that stuff! But I don’t.

    Today, I grabbed a select few items and put them away on my drive; the rest: Poof! Gone! Yes, that feels better. I’m going to do that with some other “I’d better save that on my desktop so it can bug me” stuff as well.

    I’ve been going through the unsubscribe path for the past month or so, and have already seen some productivity boost. And I’m only checking my email a few times a day now, rather than a hundred. But I don’t know if I can do the “work on a project rather than check email” in the morning, because going through the mail is essentially the way I wake up. Thanks for helping clean up!
    Tom Bentley recently posted…Not Clint Eastwood’s Chair (But Needs Filling)My Profile

  17. LindaH says:

    Thanks for this post, Carol, it answered a gnawing question I’ve been asking myself for the past two months. You’ve washed away any guilt I might have had from deleting emails I won’t read and disconnecting from newsletters I’ll never read. Currently, I have over 2,051 emails in my Inbox with 1,245 unread messages. The problem is they hide the client messages that I NEED to read and reply to.

    My business is picking up and I’m getting more leads and client email than ever before. But because I’m cluttering my Inbox I miss some. In fact, I missed one very lucrative opportunity because it went to SPAM and I was so busy looking at the InBox I didn’t check it soon enough. I lost the lead.

    I’m going to implement your suggestions today and reorganize my folders. It will improve my productivity and I’ll be able to promptly reply while getting more writing down. That will shorten my time at the computer, ease the kinks in my neck, and have more time with my fur kids who long for play time with mom just like the human kind do. Exciting thought.
    LindaH recently posted…What Do You Say When an Interviewer Asks — Why Should I Hire You?My Profile

    • Carol Tice says:

      You point up yet another problem — when we get too much junk email it does tend to bury messages that might be truly important or interesting! Just another reason to unsubscribe.

      And 1200 unread emails! Time for email bankruptcy, I say, or filing them away in folders if they’ll be useful in future.

  18. Erica says:

    Hello, Carol. My name is Erica and I’m another email junky. My problem isn’t reading every email (I delete pretty ruthlessly and I don’t get nearly as many as you). No, my addiction is checking it on my phone every 5-10 minutes. “It’s been a while, what’s in my inbox?”

    Not much that wasn’t there 5 minutes ago.

    This habit hit me full force last Thursday night as my family and I were out to dinner for my Dad’s birthday. And I was checking my email at the table. How many ways can we say “not good”?

    Right now, I’m leaving it face down on my desk, set to vibrate to I’ll know if family calls. But otherwise, I’m trying to cold turkey. And I’ve got the shakes.
    Erica recently posted…4 Business Insights from My DentistMy Profile

    • Carol Tice says:

      You’re all making me glad I don’t send email to my phone here!

      I think that dynamic, where we’re with loved ones but looking at a little device instead of into their faces, is just a horrid one. Definitely a habit to kick!

      Let’s face it — with the tools we have today, work will invade every instant of our lives…if we let it.

  19. Kerry Jones says:

    I found being too prompt with answering emails was harmful — people came to expect a response from me immediately, at any hour of the day. Accept that i’s OK to make someone wait a few hours (or — gasp — a DAY) before you respond to them.

    Now, I just have to close out of my inbox for most of the day, and then allow myself chunks of time during the day to focus only on email. Switching between email and other work was killing my productivity. I know this isn’t possible for many people, but it has done wonder for me.
    Kerry Jones recently posted…5 Tools to Curate Content like a ProMy Profile

    • Carol Tice says:

      Hi Kerry —

      SO TRUE!

      You train clients by how quickly you answer email. Do it instantly, and they expect instant. Pick up twice a day, and that’s what they expect.

      Since I am never on the Internet on Saturdays, everyone in my network is now completely used to that. I have yet to get a complaint that I didn’t respond to something sent that day.

      So yet another good reason to stop checking email so much.

      I started to feel I could lay back on it more after seeing how many venture capitalists and CEOs I talk to for business reporting take a day to respond. Clearly, email isn’t their focus — because they’re out GETTING STUFF DONE. Which is what we should all do.

    • Erica says:

      True true true about setting expectations. I don’t even reply to my own mother immediately. If it’s critical, she’ll call or text me. Clients and agencies can wait. Otherwise, I get stuck in “responsive mode” and we all know how that feels.

      And everyone but my fiance gets to leave a voice mail message.
      Erica recently posted…4 Business Insights from My DentistMy Profile

  20. Jan Pedersen says:

    Wonderful ideas…and a great insight buried not once, but twice, deep down inside your post:

    Subject Line Filters.

    I write promotional e-mails for a client to publicize bi-monthly webinars — 3 for each. The object of the Emails is to get them read and generate registrations. When we started, e concentrated on making them short, interesting, and short — fewer than about 250 words.

    It took us a cycle or two to realize that the subject line of each Email was critical because of its time-sensitive nature.

    So the take-home is that if Email is part of our own marketing strategy, we as writers need to become “subject line ninjas” and concentrate on providing enough information to get the Emails we send opened and read at the other end.

    We’ve found that the most effective subject lines, far from being pitchy or pushy, are those that generate curiosity and promise the value that the message will deliver.

    Not intending to hijack the thread…just pointing out some nuggets to help anyone who’s doing any kind of e-mail marketing!

    Jan

    (P.S. I did NOT check the “Notify me of followup comments via e-mail).

    • Carol Tice says:

      Well, Jan probably won’t see this — and not getting comment responses IS another great way to cut email! — but yes, yes, a thousand times yes.

      If you’re writing marketing emails, hopefully this gives you an insight into how critical it is that those be strong.

      I know marketers who write >TIME CRITICAL or (time sensitive) when they’re doing a short-term offer. I think given the volume of email we’re all getting, that’s probably a good idea.

      I know I haven’t done that much and I get complaints later when people realize they have missed a short offer…so note to myself there. 😉

  21. Marsha Stopa says:

    Well done. Very useful.

    I’ve been using Google Reader to “keep up with” the blogs I want to follow. I’ve got them organized into folders by topic category and when I open the folder the headlines of the unread posts are in bold.

    You can follow any blog’s posts in Google Reader, even if they don’t have an RSS feed: Type the blog address into Google Reader and anything they publish shows up in your reader.

    I was able to cut down my email load this way. However, you won’t get things they send only to their email subscribers this way.

    Thanks!

    • Carol Tice says:

      I follow in a reader for quite a few blogs as well — definitely helps cut email!

      As Oni points out, email makes us feel we HAVE to read it, where Twitter and readers don’t. So it’s good to shift more things there so they feel optional and we can pass them by.

    • Rachel says:

      I used to use Google Reader to keep up with my niche, until I didn’t check it for a while and ended up with way too many posts to even consider catching up to.

      And then there’s Read Later, and a whole bunch of equivalent apps…

      For me, it comes down to the fear of missing some vital bit of info that I imagine I need to know. And even though rationally I know that I can always look it up, I worry that I won’t remember what it was I wanted to look up…

      The fact is, though, that this never happens. There are a limited amount of topics that can be written in a particular niche; most of them are evergreen, and will show up next week, next month, or *gasp* next year. And if it’s really important, you’ll probably hear about it anyway.

      Maybe soon I’ll convince myself …

  22. Impressive post, Carol!

    I struggle with email overload, too, and I’ve even abandoned one of my email accounts due to this; I make sure not to subscribe to any blog or newsletters via my main email account and I now personally visit my favorite blogs on a regular basis or by following the authors on Twitter to keep up with what they’re saying; it’s easier to scan dozens of headlines on Twitter in minutes but something about email makes me compelled to read it.

    I’ve always wondered how you manage to be productive while still being effective with emails, I always get a fast reply from you, so I’m glad you finally shared the secret in today’s article 🙂
    Bamidele Onibalusi recently posted…The One Content Every Blog Needs to HaveMy Profile

  23. Angie says:

    I’m just recovering from email addiction. I used to go into withdrawals if I didn’t check my email every time a new one came in (Note: the email notification sound is evil. Turn it off if you want to preserve your sanity). A couple of weeks ago, I made folders for the few newsletters I actually need, and started deleting the rest. I still get a little twitchy sometimes, but I make it a point to only check email twice a day, and then again in the evening.

    Of course, I get nowhere near 200 emails per day. I think I’d have gone bald from pulling my hair out by now if that were the case! Congratulations on wading through all that. 😉
    Angie recently posted…Are You Losing Money? How Business Blogging Can HelpMy Profile

    • Carol Tice says:

      Thanks Angie!

      Thankfully, I never had the disease of setting email to ‘ding’ every time a new single message showed up. That is a total disaster for writers! Good for you on dialing it down.

  24. Lee J Tyler says:

    Oh, I so get this. I had been spending the bulk of my days reading emails. I considered it my home page! It would be the jumping off point for doing whatever I needed to do that day. Basically, the email box was running my life. One day I had enough and clicked “All” and “Mark as read”. It was so freeing that if I have work to do, I’ll look through my emails say from 6am-7am, scanning the ones that I need to read and responded to the ones needing an answer. Once 7am rolls around, if something hasn’t caught my eye, I hit “Mark as read”. This isn’t deleting it but in Gmail, the point is not to delete because Google give you so much space and a great search feature if you ever ‘miss’ something. So my inbox goes down to zero and I don’t have that nagging feeling I might have missed something-and don’t we all understand that? I check again for ten minutes over lunch and then at 3pm for ten. Voila done. I’ll peak in at 6 for my communities that start up after work is done but that’s personal time. And if I’m writing, I turn off everything and just continue to write; no pop-ups and no ‘popping in’ as I’ve got my head where it needs to be. Thank you for this article as it is such a good reminder and I will re-read it when I start to slide again, as I’m only human.
    Lee J Tyler recently posted…The Writers ReadMy Profile

  25. susan hemmingway says:

    Great post, Carol!

    I’ve tried this at few times and it has worked for productivity
    kickstarts on really busy days. When you first start your day, don’t
    go straight for your email. Start working on your project.

    Of course,I worried about whether I was missing some important email that
    should have been answered immediately, but found that
    devoting that first hour or so to actually writing made a big difference.

    • Carol Tice says:

      This is the thing I’m STILL trying to make myself do…I know life would be better. But I’m finding it a hard habit to break.

      I read a post Jeff Goins did where he talked about his productivity, and his day began with, “Write something. Then check email.” And I thought, now THAT is a good idea.

      But…so hard! Especially being someone on the west coast, you come in feeling like the east coast has been cranking for 3 hours already and you need to know what’s happened…very hard to then write for an hour or two before checking email. In the world of social media, too, the prime sharing times are nearly gone by the time I get on, so it’s hard to postpone that until later.

  26. Mike says:

    I once knew a gentleman, in the days of paper, before e-mail, who would let incoming mail pile up in his in-basket. The in-basket was a 2-layer basket with wire supports on the side. The in-basket was turned towards the side of the desk over the wastebasket.

    About once every 2-months, the top basket would reach a tipping point and do just that; tip over and dump the contents into the wastebasket.

    He would then explain, “If it was important, they will contact me again.”

    • Carol Tice says:

      LOVE that story!

      My husband is exactly the same — he could easily go a month or two and never open his mail. Drives me nuts.

      Those of us who are reporters are curious and I find it hard to leave the email alone. Which is why killing it at the source has been so helpful to me. It’s been very empowering to delete by subject line as well — basically a decision to say, “I’ll never read this.”

      If you have as many irons in the fire as I do, it’s something that has to happen. You have to start refusing to take in all the messages people want to send you, and be selective about what gets in the door…or you have no life and just answer emails all day and night.

  27. Guilty! I spend at least an hour or two each day dealing with email.

    My solution a couple of years ago was to create several email accounts – one for stuff I expected would be junk, one for friends and family, and one for business. Now I ignore the junk account, and check the friends and family account maybe once a month, but my business email is always open in the background, pinging me notifications when a new email arrives!

    I’ve started chipping away at unsubscribing, and I’ve stopped the on-screen notifications, but I can’t quite bring myself to just *close my email* until later. I’ll get there, though. Thanks for the tip about The Swizzle, I’m looking at that right after I leave here.
    Sophie Lizard recently posted…Prevent Blogging Burnout With These 7 Great Writing TipsMy Profile

    • Carol Tice says:

      I feel like I would then just go over and read the other account too. This is how the folder system failed me as well.

      I think each writer has to figure out what solves email for them…but I encourage everyone to give it a little focus. You can really reclaim a lot of productive time by getting a handle on email.

  28. Terri says:

    It seems like email slavery is very common these days. In addition to unsubscribing from email lists and designating specific times a day I’m allowed to check email, I’ve had to stop getting emails to my phone. In fact, having emails sent to my phone is possibly one of the worst things I’ve ever done. It’s the quickest way to turn you into a slave for email. Each time I got an email to my phone I was forced to check it and convinced myself that it was something that I needed to tend to right away.
    Terri recently posted…How to be a Dream Catcher – Believe in the Impossible!My Profile

  29. Cathie Ericson says:

    Great post. I too read widely and feel the pressure to respond immediately. It started when I was working from home with a baby and I was trying to prove to my agency that I really was working! So I would respond lightning quick and it became a habit. My husband has tried to help me see that I no longer need to prove anything and yet, I do feel that part of my value as a consultant is to be mostly avail. Or at least look like I am!

    I also spend the first 30 mins of my day going through my LI digests, my newsletters, etc.

    I do this on my laptop with the kids around doing their morning thing. Then when I go to my office, the only emails that come into my inbox are those that need to be dealt with. This works great for me…though many people balk at my old school two-computer system. But I still love my desktop even though my laptop is better for me to be part of the action.

    Also, I was gone for two weeks in Jan and then another week in Feb so during that time I unsubscribed to most newsletters so that my inbox wouldn’t be swamped as I wasn’t spending much time on non essential emails during those three weeks. I have been very judicious about what I resubscribed to.

    Answering email is seductive because you feel like you are busy…but often you really are not! Thanks for our great tips and also for sharing your story that it happens to many of us!

    • Carol Tice says:

      Well, clearly, we have different ideas of what family time should be. My kids will be allowed to watch TV while they eat breakfast when pigs fly. 😉

      I’m not missing those precious opportunities to look into their eyes and let them know they are loved…whether they’re sleepy or not. So soon, they’ll be gone…or in any case, my chance to connect them will be. My 20-year-old is living here now, and I can tell you chances to connect are pretty hard to come by at this point.

  30. Brynun says:

    This is a great post Carol.

    Email overload is what every blogger is suffering from. And from my own experience, I’ve discovered that when you receive too many email messages every day, it can make you unproductive. That’s why a lot of people don’t get much done in a day, because they kept reading and replying to messages.

    In line with your tips, it’s also vital to create a separate email address for your different business websites. For instance, I run several niche sites in the health niche. And I’ve separate email accounts for them all. This really helps.

  31. Carol,

    I struggle with email overload too! Like you, I’ve unsubscribed to as many email lists as I reasonably can but I still get a TON of email. Having a smartphone helped me process emails faster and more ruthlessly. Each morning, I scan the subject lines and delete several dozen emails (for instance, I may want to get press releases from an agency that has been useful in the past, but I can tell from the subject that that morning’s release isn’t relevant to my writing).

    I’ve also recently experimented with SaneBox.com and it’s been a huge help in making sure I see important emails while filtering out the rest for later.

    Susan
    Susan Johnston recently posted…Scheduling Social Media Updates While on Vacation: The Pros and ConsMy Profile

    • Carol Tice says:

      Hi Susan — I can imagine! Especially as you move into editing gigs, everybody discovers you and the email just becomes a flood.

      With all of my unsubscribing, I’ve got it down from 200+ to usually about 60 emails in the morning, which is the bulk of mine. From there, I often delete nearly half of that without reading. So I’m down to a pretty manageable level of email I deal with.

      I’ll have to check out sanebox — management tools are definitely next.

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