How To Keep Email From Taking Over Your Life

email symbol with horns on white background - 3d illustration

I normally try to write an inspirational message in my weekly email (at least I hope it’s inspirational). Today, however, I’m going to get super practical.

Email is out of control for the vast majority of people I talk to. Nobody can get to the bottom their email inbox. Many people let their email take over their entire day. I even know some who check email BEFORE THEY EVEN GET OUT OF BED! That’s a horrible way to start your day.

If you listen to people talk about email, they speak as though they believe that it is a tool designed by Satan himself, and they may be right. That doesn’t mean it has to make your life a living hell.

I’m not the foremost expert on email efficiency, but I do have some tips that I’ve tested for myself and I know they work for me. I thought they might be helpful to you, too.

Here are my favorite tips to help you master your email (my two favorites are at the end of the list):

1. Plan your day before you check email. Look at your calendar, create your action plan for the day, THEN check your email. If you do it in reverse, your email will always dictate your schedule. Always. Without exception. Period.

2. Schedule blocks of time for reading and responding to email. When you check email frequently, it will suck your life away and cause you to constantly switch gears throughout the day. This takes more time and brainpower than you think.

3. Stop thinking “If I don’t respond right away I’ll lose customers or I’ll get in trouble.” This is simply not true for 99.999% of the email you receive. Responding within a few hours or even anytime on the same day is perfectly acceptable for most circumstances.

4. Stop using your email inbox as a to-do list. This has become a common practice and it is incredibly inefficient. Make a separate to-do list electronically or on paper and then move emails out of your inbox or delete them.

And now, my favorite two tips of all:

5. Create a single folder for all of the email you want to keep. Don’t waste time creating a complex folder system that you won’t maintain. Instead, create a single folder (I call mine Processed Mail) and move everything want to keep into that folder. The key is to move it quickly, like right after you make a to-do list item out of it.


6. Use the search function to find old emails. Every email program has one and they work extremely well. This is how I am able to get by with a single folder for all my saved email. Even if I can’t remember the title of the email, I can type in key words, an email address, or someone’s name and it will find all of the email with those things in it. It’s a wonderful form of magic.

There are lots of other ways to get control of your email, but these are the biggies that work for me. Feel free to drop additional ideas and suggestions into the comments on the blog. I’d love to hear them.


Here you'll find ideas, tips, and techniques to help make your next offsite your best meeting yet.We've learned a lot during the 15,000+ meetings we've hosted, and we never stop learning (and sharing) because meetings and teams are always evolving. Be sure to leave comments and join the conversation!