How I Cut Down My Email Time by 90%
The process comes from Nir Eyal’s new book ‘Indistractable‘
Everybody has an email problem. But mine was ruining my life.
I make my money as a writer, but I was spending more time writing emails than writing books. It got so bad that I started leaving the country any time I had a deadline, just to make it harder to access my inbox. Life pro-tip: Fleeing to Mexico is not a sustainable solution to email overload.
Then last year, my friend Nir Eyal sent me an early copy of his new book, Indistractable. It’s all about how to take back your life from the apps and people pulling you away from what’s important. The whole thing had me furiously taking notes, but the chapter on email, without a doubt, changed my life.
Nir makes the case that tech companies use external triggers to hack our attention, and it’s up to us to “hack back” our time. Doing so requires digging into the root causes of why we get distracted, going deeper than simply pointing to the clever design of email apps and services. There’s something about how we think and behave that allows these tools to get to us.
In my case, it was a constant, low-level anxiety about what I was potentially missing that drove me to open up my email about 30 times an hour. My email app played on that anxiety, sure, but the root cause was my need for knowledge and control. When I’d receive a new email, I’d open it, read it, and mark it as unread. Then when I checked my inbox again, I’d go through the same emails along with new ones, trying to decide when and how I’d eventually deal with them. If you add up five minutes of email-fussing every 15 minutes, with no real progress, that’s about three hours of wasted time each day. No wonder it was so hard for me to get any deep work done.
The solution to email anxiety, Indistractable taught me, is not an app, but a process. And since I’ve implemented that process, I’ve cut down on the amount of time I deal with email by 90%. I now spend less than a half-hour on email per day.
This is how I solved my email problem, with one rule and four steps.
The rule: Only touch any given email two times: once to decide when you want to deal with it, and once to deal with it.