A client recently wrote:

“I am playing with detaching from email and chat during blocks of time so that I can accomplish things. But when I do that, I can’t be so responsive. I recently read an article about White House workers that emphasized that responsiveness—such as answering emails immediately—was an essential trait in these workers’ success. I’m wondering about proper business email etiquette and how long I can wait before responding to email at work.”

As people with full lives, we have to learn to balance replying to emails quickly enough to nurture meaningful relationships and not responding so often that we have a hard time accomplishing our goals.

One study showed that it takes most people twenty-five minutes after responding to an email to fully re-engage with the task they were focusing on before responding.  A different survey, by MailTime.com, showed that most people (52%) who send a business-related email expect to receive a response within 12 and 24 hours, but most people do not expect you to respond immediately.

Do you dread your inbox? Is the ever-increasing number of emails driving you to distraction? These four practical steps will help ensure that you’re maintaining proper business email etiquette while minimizing your inbox stress

Step One: Set two specific times during the workday to look through email.

To balance your clients’ need for responsiveness with your need to focus your attention, choose two times during the workday to respond to email.  Most time management experts agree that you should tackle your inbox after your other important tasks for the day are complete.  Others argue that it’s best to clear your inbox first thing in the morning.  The key is to choose the time that works best for you to respond to your emails, and then stick to this time.  Here are some other useful strategies to keep email distractions to a minimum:

  • Turn off audio and visual alerts on your phone during your non-email time.
  • Let colleagues and clients know that you only check email once or twice a day.
  • If you can’t finish answering all of your emails in a given sitting, schedule a time to craft longer responses to important emails.

Step Two: Write speed responses.

When it’s time to check your email, read every new email that comes in.  Follow the advice of David Allen, time management expert and author of the seminal book, Getting Things Done: If you can respond to an email in less than two minutes, do so before moving on.

Keep it short and friendly. If there’s someone in your life who regularly writes longer emails, kindly ask them to be more concise. If you get an important email from a client or collaborator that you don’t have time to respond to immediately, send them a brief note to let them know that you received their email but will respond in detail soon when you have a chance to craft a more thorough response.

Step Three: Filter out non-urgent emails.

Clutter, even the e-kind, activates the amygdala and creates the feeling that you’re always working. Non-urgent emails, such as newsletters, social media updates, and Google alerts can create stress and distract from what’s truly important.  Filter all non-urgent email into a separate folder, and designate one time every week or two to clear through these emails.

Step Four: Unplug regularly.

Pay attention to when you feel the need for a break from emails, and give yourself this break before your stress rises.  Our brains need downtime to have mental space and clarity to think creatively and engage fully in more meaningful tasks.  Depending on your ideal schedule, you may choose not to respond to emails first thing in the morning, after dinner, or on the weekends.  The key is to notice when it feels like too much and to give yourself a break before you reach the edge.

Are you interested in learning how to reduce stress, gain mental clarity, and effectively manage your time?  If so, we invite you to apply for a free Discovery Session today and take your first step towards greater balance and clarity.


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