4 steps to easing email addiction

If writing and reading emails is taking up time you should be using for other work, it might be time to modify how you approach your inbox and the ‘send’ key.

Do you ever leave the office feeling like you spent the entire day sending, responding to, or managing email, and that your real to-do list is still not done? So do I.

I’ve seen many articles lately about email management at work and, while they’re all good, none was quite right for the PR field. They recommend using apps to blindly eliminate junk email—but often our essential industry newsletters and emails might be flagged as junk. They tout the virtues of personal restraint and checking email only a few times per day, which in our media-saturated jobs is not a viable option.

I decided it was time to come up with a plan that works in PR—at any level. I started with a painful reality check. For a week, I kept track of the number of emails that arrived in my inbox and their sources. I also estimated, at the end of each day, how much of my day was spent writing, reading, re-reading, or filtering emails. The results were pretty eye-opening. In a nutshell:

What’s coming in:

350: average number of daily incoming emails
200: internal emails (from co-workers)
100: junk email
50: client emails*

(*As director of marketing and development for J Public Relations, I am involved on a limited number of accounts, so my number of client-related emails is lower than that of an average PR professional, but these rules work no matter what your mix of email sources is.)

What’s going out:

125: number of emails I send per day

As far as the amount of time that is spent focused on email, I averaged six hours per day based on a nine-hour day (and this wasn’t counting the nights I go home and hop back on email). So, the question became this: How much of my productivity, results-based work, and general job satisfaction was “lost” in the email shuffle? Probably more than I’d like to admit. So, I’m making a New Email Resolution, and I invite you to join me. Why wait until Jan. 1 to let go of this nasty addiction?

Resolution 1: Let Go. Of the 100 junk emails I get per day, easily 75 percent of those are emails I’ve signed up for. For two weeks, I will spend 20 minutes each day unsubscribing from any unnecessary daily/weekly emails. See ya, newsletters for topics I no longer focus on. Goodbye, daily deals from shopping sites I visited one time, two years ago. Adios, Google Alert for a client I haven’t represented in eight months. It’s not you, it’s me.

Resolution 2: Calm yourself. It’s easy to get trigger-happy on emails and shoot off responses right and left. Not necessary. Do you think the person who sent you an email is eagerly awaiting your “Great!” response? Probably not. Take a second before you reply to an email to determine whether a reply is necessary. You’ll be surprised how many emails don’t require a reply. And the other person will unknowingly thank you; that’s one less email they have to read and delete. Oh, and the “Reply All” button should be treated like your grandmother’s fine china—used only for special occasions and treated with respect.

Resolution 3: People before technology. We are in a communications field. Email is one form of communication, but by no means is it the only or best form. A five-minute phone call with a client can be worth 20 emails back and forth. (Note: Phone calls also strengthen client relationships, and that lessens client emails, because they trust you’re doing an amazing job.) Instead of emailing your co-worker who is sitting next to you or just down the hall, chat with them in person. You may think an email is faster than an in-person discussion or a phone call. I assure you, the amount of time you’ll save in the long run and the added value you’ll get from real conversations with your clients and co-workers will be worth it.

Resolution 4: Bundle. Though PR is a responsive job—the media, clients and co-workers are often working on tight deadlines—your job rarely requires a three-minute response time. And, frankly, it’s annoying for your clients, media contacts and co-workers to get peppered all day with one-off emails and partial information.

A couple of my favorite techniques for bundling email:

Clients: At the beginning of the day, I’ll start a draft email to a client and populate the email throughout the day with the handful of top line items that come up. If something very timely comes up such as a media request on deadline or an amazing can’t-miss opportunity, I’ll call the client. I never assume clients are on their email and available for a quick response. Then, around late afternoon, I’ll send the email. The client appreciates one comprehensive update, and my inbox stays lighter. One email = one response. Six emails = six responses. It’s basic math.

Media: Though we love (and need) to be extremely responsive to media, we also owe them a thoughtful and complete response. If you get a request or opportunity, try to take a moment and answer it fully rather than sending a one-off “I’m on it” response and then, 20 minutes later, forward the requested information. If it will take more time than you’re comfortable with to compile and send the information, or if you must send it in pieces, then follow your gut. But members of the media, just like everyone else, get inundated with email all day long, and they’ll appreciate a complete response rather than three partial responses.

Bosses and co-workers: Restating Resolution 3, internal email with your bosses and co-workers should be kept to a minimum. Unless you’re working in different offices or time zones or simply are ships passing in the night, in-person discussions should get priority. You work in an office together for a reason. When you do need to email internally (this one is especially good for emails to your boss), draft one email broken down into topics when possible—top priorities, client updates, etc. When someone is on vacation, keep a running list of things to discuss after they get back. Many things you would email them about while they’re gone will be resolved by the time they return, and you won’t be adding to their mountain of email to sort through.

Search by sender: I have a handful of people who send me many emails all day long. One client in particular finds it effective to send one-off thoughts as they pop into her mind so she doesn’t forget to tell me later. That’s perfectly fine. At some point each day, I sort my email from her and send her one, comprehensive response to her emails. She appreciates it, she doesn’t expect knee-jerk responses to every email, and I’m not spending tiny bits of time all day responding.

Keep a working agenda: I like to keep a working agenda for each client in a Dropbox folder that I can access from my phone or computer anytime. When something comes up that is neither important nor timely but needs to be addressed, I add it to the agenda, hit save, and move on with my day. This bundles “things that can wait” for my in-person meetings and eliminates emails that are not important or timely. It’s also a lifesaver when it’s time to meet with the client because I already have a meeting agenda that’s 75 percent complete. Sweet.

Now what?

Look at you, slimming down your inbox, increasing the respect and appreciation of your co-workers, and managing your time.

Amy Ogden is the director of marketing and development at J Public Relations. A version of this story originally appeared on the agency’s blog.


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