How to Stop Hating Your Email (Before You Slice Your Own Wrists)

I get a lot of email.

In fact, I probably have more emails in my inbox every day than I have hairs on my head – and since I'm not going bald, this means that I have a lot of people who are requesting my time…all the time.

You'd think it was because I was important or something. I wish that were the case. I'm no more important than you are. But since I have a public persona, I probably get more emails than the Average Jane, which has forced me to be more discerning with my time than the Average Jane, and guess what? You should be more discerning, too.

No matter who you are, eventually you will struggle to keep up with your emails, and you won't be able to hop in and “just check them,” because “just checking them” will result in a 48 hour never ending marathon in which your fingertips turn blue and your ass will go numb and the edge of your Macbook will leave permanent cut lines on the inside of your wrists, making it look like you actually tried to slice them, which really wasn't on your mind until now, because after forty eight hours of this shit, you may actually give it a second thought.

Furthermore, on top of becoming a miserable little emotionally abused slave to your inbox, the worst part (beyond the whole killing yourself thing) is that nothing else will get done, either. Like the work you're actually paid to do. Novel. Or the work you actually dream of doing. Imagine. Or even showering. The abomination!

It's for these reasons that I employ a few standard rules for myself and my inbox, because I'm really not a fan of constant pressure, requests, demands and naggy mother fuckers, and I'm guessing you aren't either. And I figure that if even a peaceful place like the zoo has rules? Then your inbox should have rules, too.

So without further delay, here are THE RULES OF THE INBOX. You should adopt them. Or don't. But at least be mindful of the time you're giving away to other people who may not merit it. Because someday your inbox is going to start eating you–and your profits–alive. And someday, I promise I will absolutely say, “I told you so.”

Rule #1: If you aren't a client, a customer or the IRS, you're going to the back of the line.

There will be no budging, no bribing, and no responses to your third email in a row asking me if I got the last email. I got your email. And no, I haven't even had a chance to open it yet. Why? Because I'm doing the things that you should probably be doing, like writing this blog post. And writing on behalf of my clients. And caring about the quality of work I produce. Not sitting in my inbox, whistling all the live long day just waiting! for! the! next! one! to! arrive! I would rather take an ice pick and slowly puncture it through my ear drum. Ooooh, dramatic.

Rule #2: If it's not a matter of life or death, then you're not going to die if you have to wait a week for a response…and I don't have to kill myself trying to get you one, either.

Here's what troubles me about email the most: The fact that everybody looks at the email address like it's a free for all, and no matter what thing is possibly going through any random Tom, Dick or Harry's head, it's perfectly fine for them to just compose a new message and pile you with it. This is dangerous. You will start to guilt yourself into answering every email that comes across your desk (I used to have VERY big problems with this), and you'll let the world jerk you around in one big circle, as if you didn't have anything better to do than shoot the shit with a bunch of complete strangers all yelling, “look at me! look at me!” Does this make me sound like an ungrateful twit? Yeah, it does. But I'm still saying it anyway because I know you're secretly fist pumping along and you NEED someone to give you much-desired permission to stop being a 24/7 emotionally abused slave to your inbox. Remember: Your email address is the equivalent of your phone number these days, and if 400 people tried calling you in one day, you think you'd have time to do anything that mattered to you? No, you wouldn't. And you'd be an asshole for answering the phone when you have stuff to do, too. Same thing goes with email.

Which leads me to Rule #3: I only answer email in the beginning of the day, or at the end of the day.

Why? Because at the beginning, I can make sure that none of my clients actually DO have a life or death situation (this has yet to happen), send off any questions or deliverables and take care of imminent business. Then–get this–I actually sign out of my inbox so I can get on with my actual work, which is copywriting, not hitting “reply” for 8 hours straight. Then, at the end of the day, only after I'm done what I really needed to get done on behalf of my paying clients and my own agenda, I'll log back in and do another check-in, responding to clients once more, or handling any other important items. Key word: Important. Then, I'll do things like respond to blog readers and people I consider important, but who don't have urgent needs. And then, and only then, if I have extra time on my hands, will I even think about responding to random people's agendas that are showing up in my inbox. Because you know that's what emails are, right? Other people's agendas disguised as a friendly hello. And frankly, I don't have a lot of energy to run around catering to everyone else's agendas. My brain is tired by then. I also have food to eat. Oh, and I think there's this thing called exercise, and having a life. I'll let you know how it goes.



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