For most of us, reading and replying to emails is an integral part of our job, but it’s not our job. Even at home, it’s possible to get sucked into the trap of dealing with endless avocational emails. Staying on top of it all can feel like shoveling the sidewalk while it’s still snowing.
The good news is there’s a simple trick to help you process email without getting snowed in:
You can pause the snowfall while you’re shoveling the walk.
First, get all new messages. If your mail client checks automatically, you’re probably already up-to-date. Or close enough.
Now go offline. How you do this will depend on your mail client. Apple’s own Mail.app makes this the easiest: just select Mailbox > Take All Accounts Offline and you’re done. With some apps, like AirMail, you’ll need to change the server settings for the account to refresh manually. If all else fails, turn WiFi off and pull the network cable if you have one. (I’m looking at you, Spark!)
Ok. It’s time to triage. Turn each email into what it is. Read, reply, archive, delete. Even if you had to turn WiFi off, you can create tasks in OmniFocus, notes in Evernote, and appointments in Calendar. Most apps will queue up the changes offline and catch up when you go back online.
Once you get to inbox zero, you’re done. Congratulations.
Now comes the dangerous part. If you’re not careful, all your hard-earned productivity may come to naught.
Depending on how you went offline, you might need to go online to send the messages you created while you were offline. This opens the door to new messages coming in. The more emails you process, the more time other people have to send you more emails to process. It’s a vicious cycle.
Try to ignore any new messages that sneak in at the end. It’s like the tree branch that gets jostled, dumping its burden on your cleared walks right before you go back inside. You will be tempted to repeat the process to get to zero again. Just one more email…
Don’t give in. There will always be more email. Leave it for later. It’s time for a different pomodoro.
Working offline while you check your email is a simple, powerful hack for getting through your email quickly. You’re not going to get into conversations with someone who’s processing their email at the same time you are (or worse—working with their email client open! Cue screams of terror.). Most refreshingly, the goal posts don’t move on you. Any email messages that come in while you’re working will be dealt with the next time you check for email.
On your schedule.