(originally published March 25, 2016, updated May 3, 2019)
In Part 1 I suggested putting aside time to process your email, as well as a separate time to work on any backlog you may have. Making sure you have the time and space to do this is the critical first step to managing your email well. So, if you have not already, go back and read Part 1.
Then the next step is developing a process for deciding what to do with each email. Not necessarily easy for adults with ADHD. In part, this is because you may get stuck in one of these 5 common decision-making traps. And, consequently, avoid dealing with your email as a result of your lack of clarity.
But, once you have a process and practice using it, you will build your confidence in your ability to manage your email consistently. You will find that this confidence, along with the right self-talk, will help you procrastinate less when it comes to processing your email
Now, I’m not suggesting you are going enjoy managing your email. That is highly unlikely. 😊 But it will be easier to choose to do it after you learn the decision-making techniques below. As processing your email will feel less daunting and overwhelming. Promise!
So, let’s get on with exploring a few of the techniques you can use.
1. Only Answer Those Emails That Will Take 2 Minutes or Less
While processing your email, it makes sense to take care of those that take two minutes or less. You might as well get them out of the way, right? It’s important, though, to follow the 2-minute rule literally. Because, if you start answering your email during this time, you won’t have time to go through the rest of your inbox.
So, when you find yourself saying, “Oh, this will only take two minutes,” make sure you mean it. But don’t be surprised if you find this challenging. As one of the hallmarks symptoms of ADHD is time blindness. Not sure what 2 minutes “feels like”? Set a timer a few times when you are answering an email you think will take two minutes or less.
You’ll get the hang of it. It’ll just take practice.
2. Always Mark Junk / Spam as Such Before Deleting
This one is easy. These are unsolicited emails. First, mark these as spam so they go right to your junk mail folder the next time. Then delete them.
3. Subscriptions You Don’t Read
I know you may sign up for newsletters because the topic interest you in the moment. But then your interest quickly fades, and so you never or rarely read some of them. Yet, you don’t unsubscribe because you wonder “What if something interesting comes in the next one?”
This fear of missing out is likely keeping you from making the decision to unsubscribe.
But, in addition to contributing to the clutter in your inbox, these emails may also contribute to your stress and overwhelm. Because when you look at them you think, “I should really read that.” And it becomes just one more thing you’re not getting around to doing, right?
It might help to remember that there is more good information out there then you can possibly digest. So, if there is no compelling reason to get the subscription, go ahead, be brave, unsubscribe. Then delete the email!
4. Subscriptions You Do Read
There are probably also newsletters you read and would like to continue receiving. Yet, even though reading some of these is not a priority, you may open them as soon as they hit your inbox. Instead of doing what you intended — your important work.
If you want to avoid this distraction:
- create an email filter for these so they automatically go into a specified folder.
- then set aside time when it makes sense to read them.
The key is not to let these emails distract you from what you intended to do.
5. Emails with Links to a Webpages You’d Like to Explore
Similarly, links in emails can distract you and contribute to your overwhelm. Think about it. How off-track do you get when you click on “just one link.” I bet you’ve spent a lot of time going down one rabbit hole after another by doing this. And then you beat yourself up for wasting time, right?
Alternatively, you may keep an email with links in your inbox to remind you to go back to it later. Right, later. And, yes, your inbox grows, as does your stress. Because every time you look at that email you think, “I want to look at that soon.”
Rather than clicking the link in the email right away or saving the email on the off chance you’ll get back to it later, save the article or link, using one of the services below.
- To save an article you want to read later, use a read-it-later service, such as Instapaper or Pocket
- If the article is related to one of your projects, save it with the other reference material in a digital notebook, such as Evernote or OneNote.
- Maybe you just want to save a link to check out the website later. A service such as bookmark ninja is a great way to organize links.
I’m sure you know of other services, too.
The key is to choose the app you will most likely be willing to use and use it consistently. So, for example, if you pick bookmark ninja, always save links with this app. That way you can be confident you will know where to look for them later.
After you save the article or link you can delete the email. Nice, right?
6. Emails That Contain Information Related to a Project / Area of Focus
Then there are emails you don’t need to respond to or take any immediate action, but you want to hold onto because they are relevant to one of your current projects or areas of focus. Maybe you think you may need to refer to it later.
Whatever your reason for wanting to keep it, don’t leave it in your inbox. Instead, you can:
- forward the email to the related task in your electronic task manager, such as Trello or Todoist.
- alternatively, if the email is not related to an active project, store it in an email folder. Then, when you are done with the project you can move the folder to your archives or just delete it.
- If you are using a digital notebook, such as Evernote, you may want to store the email with the related project.
Again, the key is to be consistent. So, you don’t have to remember to remember, “Where is that…?”
7. Emails That Contain Information for a Scheduled Event / Appointment
This one is easy!
If the email contains information for a scheduled event or appointment, first, put it in your calendar. No, don’t wait to do it later. Do it as soon as you open the email. If there is an address, put it in the location field. Then, if there is additional information you might need, put that in the comment’s section.
For example, you may want to include:
- items needed for the event/appointment
- contact information for the other people you are meeting
- anything else you think would be useful to include so you don’t forget it on the day of the event.
Once you have all the information you need, go ahead and delete it. If, for whatever reason, you’re not comfortable deleting it, at least archive it so it is out of your inbox.
8. When You’re Not Sure How to Answer an Email
As is true for many adults with ADHD making decisions may be a challenge for you. When it comes to your email this may mean you have a difficult time deciding how to respond to some of them. So, when you see these emails you may say to yourself, “I’ll have to get to that – later.” Right.
If you find you’re often stuck in one of these 5 decision-making traps when it comes to your email, you can change that. Instead of just blowing past these challenging emails, you can use the steps below to figure out how to answer them.
- First, identify all the emails you are avoiding.
- Then for each one, ask yourself, “What is it about this email that is keeping me stuck from answering it?”
- Next ask, “If I set aside enough time, can I figure out how to answer this on my own?” If the answer is yes, go ahead and set aside the time.
- If you decide you can’t figure out how to respond on your own, ask, “Who or what do I need to access for support in order to answer this email?” Then reach out for the support you need.
These are tricky emails, for sure.
But leaving them in your inbox can also be frustrating, too, right? And I know the above seems like a long process. But how about the time and energy you spend cleaning up the messes from the emails you don’t answer? So, why not put in the time before you’re in a bind.
9. Emails That Require Time and Thoughtfulness to Answer
Then there are those emails you have no problem answering. If you had the time. These are the ones you avoid because you have so much other work to do. And slowing down to deal with them may not be your speed.
So, you promise yourself you’ll get to them later — when you have time. But because of your ADHD related challenges with time and planning, the time you’re going to do them is always, well, later. Just not now. And the emails sit in your inbox.
The key is to recognize when you have an email that requires a more thoughtful response. And will take more time and energy to compose then you have right now. Rather than just leaving it in your inbox as a reminder, add it to your task list.
You may then want to block off some time in your calendar to make sure you follow through in answering it. Because, though putting it on your task list is a good first step. It’s not enough to help you execute. I’m sure you know that all too well.
More Tips to Come…
We’re not done with email, yet.
In Part 3 of this series, I’ll walk you through some of the workarounds for composing challenging emails. And look at when an email is or is not the best medium to use to communicate.