Drowning in email? Maybe you’ve believed a myth.

Communication used to be much easier. Before the days of email you would either send a letter, place a telephone call, or simply talk with someone face-to-face. Those days are long gone. We are bombarded with communication from many more angles. Email, text messages, facebook wall posts, and more make it difficult to stay on top of being current on communicating with people.

But the problem may not simply be the massive amount of emails we receive. In fact, it’s probably more to do with how we have chosen to process email. I know a lot of people who leave EVERYTHING in their email inbox. They have literally thousands of messages, many unread, that are sitting in an inbox. No wonder they feel overwhelmed. But it doesn’t have to be this way.

Right now I have six messages sitting in my work email inbox. There are also 17 that I have starred that I either need to review or act on. The oldest of these is only one week old. I’m actually way behind on my email by the standards that I’ve set for me. I don’t like to leave the office with ANY messages left unprocessed. At most, maybe 2-3 that I’m waiting on someone or something to act on.

I haven’t always been like this. There was a time when the normal response time for me was 4-7 days and it wasn’t uncommon for me to take 2-3 weeks to reply to messages. I finally woke up out of this email stupor and decided I needed to make some changes.

There was one thing that was really the catalyst for this change: Merlin Mann’s Inbox Zero. The basic premise is that you can get your inbox to zero and then keep it that way. It’s true and it’s a great feeling.

In addition to this I recently came across a post over at lifehack.org that lists 7 Email Myths That Plague the Workplace. I’ve fallen trap to some of these myths before and imagine you have too. There are two that stand out to me in particular:

  • You need to reply to every email. This is not true. There are many email that you really don’t even need to read. If you know you don’t ever want or need the message just delete it. What I do is use Gmail’s archive feature that lets me know that I’ll have the email if I ever need it again, but most importantly it gets the message quickly out of my inbox so that it won’t distract me from messages that will require my action.
  • Email is a beast that can’t be tamed. Again, a myth that’s easy to fall pray to. There are many people who receive hundreds of emails a day that require some sort of action. I know because I’m friends with some of them. They may at times get behind, but I know that at some point they plow through the messages and tame the beast. No matter how many messages you get on a daily basis you can tame the email beast. It might take you changing your email provider to use a system that will block spam, but you can do it, you just have to make the choice.

If you have any strategies for taming the email beast share them in the comments.

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