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Remember window shopping?  That was back when you had more time than money.  You would look at all the things you would buy if you had the money.

Now we have more money than time, and we wouldn’t dream of spending our time window shopping.  When we go shopping, we buy stuff we need or want. 

Browsing through your email without taking the time to act on it (read, delete, respond, defer, or transfer to a task list) is the equivalent of window shopping.  It’s a waste of your time.  How much time in a day do you spend reviewing emails and not doing anything with them?

Sometimes you have to do a quick email check because you’re waiting for an important message.  That should be the exception.  When you go into your email you should take a couple of minutes to process your messages so you don’t have to look at them again.  Otherwise you are just wasting your time. 

What about those emails that you need to keep and see later?  Today it’s easy to defer them – there are some tools you can use to send email messages out of your inbox and have them come back at a later time of your choosing.  If you’re using Gmail to view your emails, there is a Snooze feature built in. There’s also a great Gmail add-in called Boomerang ($4.95 a month) which adds additional features.  If you use Outlook for email, then the Sanebox add-in is the best option (starting at $7 a month).  Boomerang is available for Outlook but I ran into some issues so I prefer Sanebox for my Outlook account.

When you go to the grocery store without a shopping list, you end up buying twice as much stuff.  Have you ever gone food shopping with kids when you were too tired to say “no”?  The shopping cart quickly gets filled with all kinds of stuff you would normally never buy.  Well, if you don’t manage your email, you’ll have the same result. When you don’t have an email schedule that limits your time in email it will similarly expand to fill your entire day.

Email is a communication tool, similar to voice mail.  It’s made up of mostly other people’s requests for your time. It’s like the “free sample” people at the big-box grocery store trying to get you to buy their products.   Don’t make eye contact and just keep on moving because you have things to do and don’t have time to listen to their spiel.

You need to treat your email the same way – don’t even look at emails that aren’t important to you.  I love using Gmail to view my email.  I don’t use the default tabs.  I use the Priority Inbox  setup.  My inbox has three sections – Starred, Important, and Everything Else.  It allows me to easily ignore emails that I don’t care about.  Sanebox also has filters to separate unimportant emails. 

Unless your job is to answer incoming emails, you aren’t being productive if you are spending all day in email. Instead follow your agenda for your day based on what are the most important things you need to get done.  Have scheduled times to check email and process it at that time … then get back to work.  Use tools like Boomerang or Sanebox to help you tame your email and watch your productivity soar.

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