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Top tips for managing your emails and messages

This is one in a series of blogs designed to help you get better at time management and be more productive. It's based on my own experience and what's worked for many of my coaching clients.

While I refer to email in this blog, these tips apply to any messaging apps that allow other people to ask you for stuff!

Based on my coaching clients and my own experience, the problems people have with email are generally the

  • Volume of emails they have, and the

  • Frequency of checking them

...and both problems tend to be fuelled by a fear of missing something, not responding well and then being judged badly

  • "I’ve just got so many emails, I’m afraid that I’m going to miss something."

  • "I'm afraid of what will happen as I can’t respond to all of my emails."

  • "I have to keep checking my emails or else I’ll miss something important."

  • "I need to respond immediately otherwise I’ll be judged badly."


My top tips for Email Management will put you back in control, reduce the fear and stop your emails from sabotaging the rest of your to-do list.

  • Schedule email time

  • Keep your inbox empty

  • Decide once and ditch

They are based on a mixture of things I have picked up along the way, tweaked for myself and which have proven to be useful for my clients too.

Schedule email time

Despite what you tell yourself, people don’t generally need an immediate response to email. If something is really urgent, they are more likely to call you (relentlessly probably).

And constantly checking your email causes more problems as

  • It's a distraction that slows you down.

  • There's plenty of research on this, but the general consensus seems to be that it takes about 20 minutes to refocus after a distraction.

  • You have less time to focus clearly on other (possibly more important) tasks, and

  • It's likely to add to any feelings of stress, which impacts your ability to think well and slows you down even more.

The answer?

Restrict the time you spend on email and schedule specific time in your diary for working on your inbox

  • Experiment with how much time works and at what times of day, but start with something that is often enough and long enough to calm down any fears of responding late or not getting through all your emails.

  • Perhaps 3 times a day, for 45 minutes first thing in the morning, at lunchtime and at the end of the day. And see if you can reduce that over time, based on your experiment.

  • Close your email application and turn off any email notifications or badges outside of these times…so you can focus on just one thing at a time (our minds don’t like, and aren't good at, multi-tasking).

Keep your inbox empty

People often leave all their emails in their inbox because they’re afraid that if they clear stuff out, they might lose or forget something important.

But keeping everything in your inbox can cause more problems….

  • You’re never really sure what’s in there. Which emails do I need to deal with and which have I dealt with? Have I missed or forgotten something important?

  • Just the sheer volume can add to a feeling of overwhelm and a loss of control of your working life!

  • You risk wasting time by reading and thinking about an email more than once as it’s still just sitting in your inbox.

  • The number of emails has become so big that the thought of clearing everything out is just too daunting.

The answer?

Keep your inbox empty

  • Aim to empty out your inbox during the focused email times you’ve scheduled in your day.

  • And if you don’t, then at least make sure it gets back to empty every couple of days.

Massive inbox, not sure where to start?

This is often the case after a holiday, so the first thing to do before you go away is block out time on the day you get back to go t