Stop getting distracted by emails and work on what matters. Practical tips & ideas to spend less time in your inbox.
Tip 1: Don’t work from your email inbox all day
Email is important, but not urgent (most of the time).
Email contains important work. But usually, it’s other people’s important work. If you respond to every bit of information coming your way, you’ll never work on your own list. The result is that you’ll be stressed, overwhelmed and overworked.
If you work from your inbox, you probably are busy but not contributing to creating a larger impact. For that reason, spending the entire day in your email inbox is a big no-no. The only exception is if you work in customer support or sales. If you don’t know what to work on, set goals and create a list of projects to work on.
Solve this by having fixed times to check email
Set up 3 times a day to check your email, e.g.:
End of day
If you have a meeting at the time of the email slot, just move it or skip a slot. If you check email twice a day, that’s still good enough.
Pro tip: Don’t open email before 10 AM
If you work the first 60-90 minutes of the day without any interruptions from email, you can accomplish a lot.
Tip 2: Turn off desktop email notifications
Avoid getting distracted by incoming emails in real-time
Seeing an email from your boss coming in, it’s appealing to have a quick look. The truth is, that it’s better to finish what you’re working on and then read the email.
However, if you’ve seen it come in, you still think about it.
Turn off email desktop notifications to prevent getting distracted
Every notification you receive is a distraction. That holds true for email as well. Although it’s work related, you still get distracted from it.
Stick to the time slots you’ve planned to read email and work on more meaningful work in the meantime.
Tip 3: Turn off ‘Unread message icon' icon in Gmail
Avoid being distracted by the ‘number of unread messages icon’
If you are anything like me, you get distracted by the little red dot with a number inside the browser tab of Gmail.
Solve it by turning off the ‘unread message icon’ inside Gmail
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Tip 4: Hide your inbox and keep using the Gmail search
Avoid responding to emails outside of ‘email time’ when finding an email
When you work proactively on important work, sometimes you need information from an email like a file, a phone number or an attachment.
What could happen is that you feel the urge to start responding to that one email. Before you know it, you’ve replied to all of your emails and didn’t work on that important task.
Block your inbox view and still use the search functionality
My inbox looks like this with Inbox when Ready:
The solution is the tool Inbox when Ready. You can still open Gmail and use the search functionality to find the information you need. But all ‘new emails’ are hidden by a screen. If you don’t see the new emails, you can’t get distracted by them.
Note: when you use the free version, a link will be added to all the emails you send out. Trust me: the paid version is worth it!
Tip 5: Take email off your phone
Respond to emails on your desktop, not on your phone
Reading an email on your phone, responding in your head and then marking the email as unread, is not really productive, is it?
Adding that read email to a mental to-do list is another way to get distracted.
Don’t use email on your phone
The solution to this habit is simple, but also hard: don’t use email on your phone. The simplest way to not use email on your phone is to simply remove the account from your email app.
Stop receiving email in real-time while still being able to use Google Calendar
As a Google user removing your email account from your phone is harder, because you probably want access to Google Calendar. In that case, you have to be logged into your Google account, so Gmail is still active.
With "Quiet for Gmail" you can set time-based rules to stop notifications from your personal/work email accounts (if you have a work phone check with your administrator if you’re allowed to use this app).
“I can’t turn off email notifications or unsync my account, I need real-time emails for X”
It’s a well-established thought that we all need to receive and reply to emails in real time. This is (one of the?) biggest fallacies that prevail in a working environment.
Unless something big is on fire, and you need to put it out, it’s likely that your inbox can wait a couple of hours. Check where the friction of not having real time emails sits for you.
Most issues of ‘needing to access email in real-time’ can be avoided with proper time-management and agreements on how/where to communicate.
Tip 6: Use project management tools for updates instead of emails
Use a project management tool like Asana to share updates and to see the status of tasks, including dependencies.
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Ewoud Uphof is an experienced Growth Hacker, certified funnel optimiser and investor.
In the past decade he has co-founded multiple companies. As Head of Growth he has helped grow 50+ companies ranging from start-ups to multinationals. He has worked for Camptoo, NU.nl, Sophia Mae, Koffievoordeel and many more.