Inhale, Exhale, Email…Tips for effectively handling email

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I guess it was about three years ago that I began my day with my usual routine of checking my email. For whatever reason, on this particular day, I felt sick and totally overwhelmed by so many unanswered, incomplete communications, sitting in my inbox, demanding my attention. My brain hurt. I was dizzy from days, weeks and months of reacting and responding to emails, working on electronic documents, and, in general spending too much face time with plasma screens.

It seemed as if my emails were mocking me, “me first…no, me first…but I was here first!” I’m barely beginning my day and I’m feeling a little crazy about which email to respond to first. “Ah, there’s a new one that looks pretty easy….yeah, I’ll do that one first. Oh, but what about the one’s from yesterday. I promised Todd I get him that document. Hmmm…that’s going to take some time…better make a post it note-that one’s really important! Now, what was I just doing? Oh yeah, email. Ok, I’d better let my friend know that I’ll be travelling next week so I won’t be able to catch up…” And so on.

When and how did all this technology- which is supposed to make life easier– become such a dominant, addictive, overwhelming problem in my life?! When did email become a new respiratory function?

Sound familiar? Here are some tips that might help you get a handle on your email, help you focus and perhaps rest a little easier. E-mail used consciously will enhance your productivity, but used unconsciously, will actually lower your productivity. E-mail is one of several channels for conversing and sharing information. People use E-mail without thinking of the possible negative impact on others – an impact that grows exponentially when scaled up to a group, department, or organization.

Do you have an alarm (visual or audio) set up to notify you when a new e-mail arrives and then interrupt whatever you are doing to check your e-mail throughout the day? Do you store all your e-mail in your inbox until you deal with it? Do you habitually cc: everyone on your outbound messages? Have you ever spent 15 minutes or more writing an e-mail on a topic that would have taken you two minutes to discuss in person? If you answered yes to any of these questions try implementing the following practices;

Email Practices

  1. Use your tools wizard to intercept and redistribute all incoming CC’s into a Not Doing Now E-mail Folder, except those from people you know you will want to read.
  2. Schedule a recurring daily Occasion to scan and read the E-mail that you have allowed to remain in your inbox.
  3. As you are scanning your E-mail, slide anything that you cannot respond to instantly, into a Not Doing Now E-mail folder.
  4. Schedule three or four Occasions per week to review process and respond to what is in your Not Doing Now E-mail folder.
  5. Do not open and read E-mail except during the scheduled Occasions. Turn off any audio or visual email pop up notifications you may have set to notify you of arriving email.
  6. Make sure you E-mail everyone with whom you have regular E-mail conversations to tell them about your daily protocol. If urgent, they should call you!
  7. Complete your Doing Now E-mail by the end of each day.

Subject Line Examples:

DEGREE OF IMPORTANCE/Topic/Action Required

  • Example: URGENT/New Brochure for Product X/Comments needed

Or, start each subject line with description of purpose of the email:


If someone is listed in the “CC” field of the email, they are not expected to take any action with the email

  • If you want someone to take an action, they must be listed in the “To” field

At the end of the email

If you do not require a response to your email, end with “No response required.”

If you do require a response, say what response you are asking for and by when; explicitly say to whom to respond:

  • Example: JOE: [By 17 December, 2009] Please respond.

Do not use “Reply to all” unless each person needs to see the response.

I’m happy to say that I’m no longer overwhelmed by email and it feels great! Breaking some of my non productive habits was not easy at first. If you have any questions or need support please feel free to email me. Better yet, just call!


  1. Very useful information. It gives me pauseto think about how I am engaged with life. I have a very hard time focusing. It has disturbed me, but my friends always say, “you are in brain overload. You have too much on your mind.” I never thought I had anymore on my mind than anyone else, but you have given me a new prospective on “brain overload”.

  2. Sarah,
    Yes, many of us are overloaded with too much information! You might want to get a copy of CrazyBusy by Hallowell. It really helped me to slow down and focus. Keep me posted on your progress!

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