Whether you’re a solopreneur or just have a full life, we all know it’s true. Email can be one of the biggest timesucks of our modern work life so it’s best to learn how to manage its overload.
Checking email excessively is not healthy or productive. It also doesn’t help you get anything done in your life or business faster, or even better. Solopreneurs sometimes hide behind email addiction as a way to feel like they’re taking action when in reality, they’re stalling.
Many women struggle to take the leap and start their own location-independent business because they indulge in confusion and pretend they don’t know where to start. Other times, people get started but feel stuck and cannot scale their business without suffering burnout. They often spend their time drowning in their email addiction.
Or, maybe you’ve launched your business, but email is a productivity killer and seriously compromising your focus. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the sheer volume of your email. Does everything feel urgent, and then you wonder why you can’t seem to get any focused, creative work done and make real progress? If so, you need to figure out how to manage email overload to bring more focus and flow to your business.
Email addiction is real
Whatever reason you’re tethered to your devices, checking your inbox is addictive, but you can break the email addiction. And yes, studies show that email is legitimately addictive, so don’t feel bad if you’re addicted to it, because you’re not alone. There are all kinds of reasons we want to check our email and always thinking how to manage overload one last time. It makes us feel like we’re accomplishing something and earning those quick wins. In an uncontrollable world, checking our email whenever we want is reliable.
I know firsthand how destabilizing email addiction can be. I used to be 100% addicted to email and working. This isn’t metaphorical; I was checking my email at all hours of the day and night. My obsession with my inbox and being ‘always on’ was also one of the main reasons I was unhappy in my corporate job.
Email shouldn’t be a dumpster fire
In the past, I would treat each new email as an urgent, out-of-control dumpster fire that I needed to deal with immediately. I would relish it if I could respond to an email faster than one of my coworkers. Thus email addiction could derail my own plan for the day. This often led to feeling frustrated when I didn’t achieve my daily goals. I also had no time to do what I wanted to focus on at work or in my personal life. It felt like I needed to continue working well into the evening and over the weekends.
My coworkers (rightly!) resented me for replying to emails at night and on weekends because it made them feel like I was making them look bad for not doing the same thing. I hit a low point about two years before leaving corporate life and started to take steps to create better boundaries around work. However, to some degree, this behavior continued into my freelance life for the first year or so. I knew I had a serious mindset problem and needed to figure out how to manage email overload. I remember when people used to tell me they only checked their email up to three times a day. At the time, I thought they were crazy. Meanwhile, my email was always open and always on fire.
Over time, I learned that I had to make a shift and set some boundaries, believing my time is as essential as my boss’s time or my client’s time. I’ll say it to anyone who needs to hear this: It’s unreasonable for anyone to expect a response right away to something that is not an actual emergency. In my experience, marketing-related tasks don’t produce true emergencies. Even urgent matters can be addressed through established systems and processes. And, if something is truly urgent and someone needs to reach you, they’ll pick up the phone.
As a new freelancer running my own business, I also realized I didn’t need to work 9 to 5 anymore. I could create the flexible schedule I wanted and walk away from my desk whenever I wanted to. But I could only have that freedom if I went out and built it for myself. I suddenly became much more productive and laser-focused on:
1) Making a plan for the quarter, month, week, day, and sticking to it. I even planned down to 30-minute increments of time. I kept my commitments to myself, and my plan became the core of my schedule. The rest could wait.
2) Finding clients who would respect my time and my preferred way of working. I no longer worked for just anyone. If a client needed a response to something within an hour of receiving it, then I knew they weren’t the right client for me. I also learned how to recognize my ideal clients vs. clients with unrealistic expectations and avoided taking on projects with the latter.
3) The more I weaned myself off of email, the less useful I found it. I also discovered that other tools could be much more effective when managing projects remotely.
Here’s how I broke my email addiction:
I put on an email auto-responder to both my personal and professional email addresses. People now know that, in order to manage my time and productivity, I only check my email 1-2x per day. I also added that I often don’t check my email on weekends at all to set an expectation.
What if a client has a real emergency? I do share my phone number in that auto-responder and ask people to call me only if there’s something urgent they need to speak to me about. Spoiler alert: virtually no one has ever called me. However, it does give me peace of mind that my clients are taken care of, and they know they have a way to reach me if absolutely necessary.
Stopped emailing my team and clients
I also stopped emailing my team except in rare cases. We now manage all our workflows in project management software, like ClickUp. Instead of emailing each other updates and deliverables, we keep tabs on everything in ClickUp.
Of course, we still need to have conversations in real-time, both one-on-one and in groups. But we know not everything needs to be a meeting. We handle all of our side conversations in collaborative software. I like Slack and can easily add team members to conversions relating to specific projects.
I also use ClickUp and Slack to manage projects and conversations with my clients. My old colleagues would probably be shocked to know I also stopped emailing my clients, except for rare circumstances.
Breaking your email addiction also requires removing the temptation to check your inbox continually. Your devices are potent reminders that there’s always someone trying to reach you. I removed all email notifications from my phone and computer and strongly recommended you do the same. And I no longer get any sort of sound or visual notification when I have a new email. Instead, I see new emails when I go to check my email intentionally, 1-3 times per weekday.
Used email filters
It’s not just your imagination. Inbox overwhelm is real and learning how to manage email overload is difficult. It’s near impossible to sort out which email is important and which can wait, plus everything in between, when you’re getting hundreds of emails a day. Setting up email filters automatically sorts out which correspondence goes where. I also used Gmail Filters to filter out emails from a particular sender into a folder but archived them out of my inbox (this is especially useful for email subscriptions where most of the time, the sender is trying to sell you something).
Rolled-up my emails
I also found a way to parse through less importance quickly. Unroll.me creates a ‘rollup’ of emails that you don’t need to read carefully but still want to scan. However, just be aware the app accesses your inbox, so it’s not the best solution if you’re super into online privacy. As the name implies, Unroll.me rolls up your emails into one visual email. For example, all eCommerce emails go into my rollup, and I only open them when I want to (like when I want to see what some of my favorite retailers are offering in terms of Black Friday sales).
Banned devices from the bedroom
I stopped the habit of taking my phone to bed. My husband doesn’t bring his phone to bed, either, and we don’t have a TV in the bedroom. Our bedroom is our sanctuary and should only be used, in my humble opinion, for sleep, reading, dressing a baby in her jammies before bed, or… extracurricular activities 😉 No working from bed!
If you’re going to break a bedroom device habit, you also need a way to replace it. If you’re accustomed to checking your email the moment you open your eyes, replace that habit. Journal, turn on some music, or make a to-do list of what you want to accomplish that day first thing in the morning. Soon your new morning rituals will become habits instead of feeding your email addiction.
Keep my email closed
In the old days, my email was open continuously, so I never missed a thing. Now I don’t keep my email open at all. I check it in the morning as part of my usual daily routine and, usually, when I log off at the end of the day. But that’s it!
If you can’t seem to break the habit of clicking over to check your email, try an app like Inbox Pause. It will stop emails from coming into your inbox until you’re ready to read them. You control how often it comes in and even has autoresponders to let people know when you’ll be checking email.
Committed to no-email weekends
I don’t check my email on the weekends anymore… at all. Once I got used to going offline on the weekends, I couldn’t get enough! Even if I occasionally open my business email on a weekend these days, I never respond because I don’t want to set the expectation with my team and clients that I will be available to read and respond to emails on weekends. I also don’t want my team to feel like I expect them to mimic this behavior, either.
Streamlined meeting scheduling
When you’re kicking your email addiction or learning the skill to manage inbox overload can be challenging to figure out how to deal with meeting scheduling. I started using Calendly for booking all of my meetings, which virtually eliminated the need for back-and-forth emails with clients or team members to schedule things (and also eliminated the need for one of my VAs to monitor my inbox and schedule client meetings). Calendly connects with up to six of your calendars and will automatically check your availability. When clients click your Calendly link, they can see your availability and find a time that works for them.
Calendly does have some limitations if you’re trying to firm up a meeting with multiple people. In these cases, I send along a Doodle to find the best time for everyone. It also allows you to suggest dates and times, and Doodle will create a polling calendar to get your participants’ feedback on when they want to meet.
Breaking the email addiction can increase your revenue
Breaking my email addiction and learning how to manage the constant overload has improved every aspect of my business and life, including my revenue. I work more efficiently than ever before and earn more money, in part, because I’m not always wasting time on email and putting out those dumpster fires. Instead, I’ve developed systems and processes that help me stay on top of my business. I have freedom, flexibility, and a multiple six-figure income without the need to respond to emails 24/7.