Are you frustrated by your inability to keep up with your email? Has your failure to respond in a timely manner led to:
- missed deadlines?
- being called out by a colleague, client or boss?
- missed opportunities, maybe even prospective business?
- scheduling snafus?
If any of these are true for you, then you know how critical it is for your success to get a handle on your email.
Do you also wonder if your ADHD is contributing to your challenges with email?
Email and ADHD
Keeping up with the constant “onslaught” of email is a challenge for many with ADHD. Being aware of the specific challenges can help you devise a plan to get a handle on it, rather than letting it control you.
- Unless the tide is stemmed, email can be a constant source of stimulation /instant gratification for adults with ADHD. It can get in the way of attending to other important tasks, if your attention is constantly drawn to your inbox.
- As transitions can also be a challenge for adults with ADHD, scanning and responding to email as it comes in can also make it hard to fluidly transition back to working on your other tasks.
- What causes, perhaps, the most anxiety for many is the necessity of making a decision about what do with each email. You may, instead, ignore the emails, allowing them to pile up causing you more overwhelm.
The key to turning this around and feeling like you are in control of your email, is to establish systems, habits and rules for managing it.
Rules For Processing Your Email
Remember, out of sight out of mind, especially for adults with ADHD. So, you do not want to use your inbox as a filing cabinet.
Below are types of emails that may be in your inbox, as well as suggestions to guide you in making decisions about what to do with specific types of email.
1. This is spam; I never signed up to receive this.
Of course, mark it as spam so it goes right to your junk mail folder.
2. This is an email that I want to keep receiving, but it is not time sensitive. Newsletters are good examples of these.
You may want to set up your email filters so that these types of emails will automatically go to folders you create.
3. This is a reoccurring email that I never look at it and have no interest in receiving anymore.
First, if you do not want to receive anymore emails from this sender, unsubscribe. Why keep getting it and letting it clutter you inbox? Then delete the current email.
4. I can’t even remember why I am saving this email.
Yes, delete it.
5. I am saving this email because it has a link to a web page I want to look at later.
Save the web page in Instapaper and delete the email.
6. I have a personal or professional project that I am working on and want to save the email for reference.
You may use your email folders or an electronic notebook, like Evernote, to store this type of information. Review your folders and their contents monthly to make sure you still need them.
7. I need the information in this email to complete a task or project.
As with reference emails, store the email or just the relevant information with the task.
- File the email in a folder
- If you are using Evernote for the project, store the information in the relevant notebook.
- If you are using an electronic task manager (Remember the Milk, OmniFocus, Nozbe, etc.), store the information with the task.
8. The email contains information for a scheduled event.
Put the event in your calendar. Cut and paste whatever information you need from the email into the notes section of the calendar item. And, yes, delete the email.
9. I can answer this email in a couple of minutes.
If the action/response will take a couple of minutes, do it right away. Why not get it out of the way. Then, if there is nothing else you need from the email, go ahead and delete it.
10.It will take me some time to respond to this email. (You may need more information in order to respond or you just need more time to compose a thoughtful response.)
Put task on your To Do List.
11. I want to keep this email as a reminder of a task I delegated or as a reminder that someone is going to do something I want to continue tracking.
Again, put this task in your To Do List.
12. When you send an email, an you need to remember to follow-up if you don’t receive a response.
Put this on your to do list as a task, and include a due date. “Call or email Bob, if I don’t hear from him by 3/24.”
13. I receive other types of email that are not on this list.
Please email me, marla at marlacummins dot com, and let me know what it is, and I will add it to the list.
Cleaning up Your Inbox
The first step is to clean up your backlog. Consider this a project, and set aside time to work on it separate from your regular processing time.
Be prepared to set aside a fair bit of time to accomplish this. But you likely don’t need “prime thinking time” for this task, as it is fairly rote (aka boring).
So, go ahead, plop down in a comfy chair with your laptop, turn on the music and plow through.
Even with that pleasant image the prospect of doing this may feel overwhelming. Remember you don’t have to do it all at once. Think of it as a project, and schedule time over a period of a couple of weeks to complete it.
After completing the process of cleaning out their inbox, my clients have described the feeling as “liberating.”
I am hopeful that you will have the same feeling when you are done.
Processing Your Email
Email can be one of the biggest time suckers in your day, if you let it. Deciding when and how you process and respond to email can put you back in charge.
Depending on your needs, choose 1-4 times during the day when you will process your email, using the above guidelines. If incoming email is distracting to you, you may want to turn off your email or just the notification option so you can focus your attention on other tasks.
Rather than reacting to email as it comes into your inbox, you can control when you respond.
Schedule time each day to take action on the emails on your To Do List
In addition to the daily actions related to your email, include the steps below once a week.
- Review your To Do List. Is there something you need to do that you overlooked? Schedule time to do this task. Are you waiting for something that is overdue. Do you need to send out a reminder or ask about the status of something? Follow up on these.
- Did you get behind in processing your email. Use this time to finish processing your email for the week. Go through your email, and make sure you did not miss anything. Use the steps outlined above.
At least once a month review your email folders and their contents.
If there is material that is no longer relevant, delete the email or even the entire folder.
You could also do this step during your weekly review time.
What is The Point?!
Why do all of this work to keep up with your email and keep it organized?
You already know that you need to keep up with your email so you can respond in a timely manner.
To recap, by adopting a routine you will also:
- increase your chances of acting on what is important to you.
- screen out what is not important, so that you can spend your time in ways that you value.
- respond in a timely manner so that you can take advantage of opportunities.
- be seen as a reliable and professional.
- have information where you need it, not swimming around in your head.
- lose the constant nagging feeling that you are forgetting something.
Email is part of almost everyone’s life. Having a process to deal with it will make it easier.