The right to disconnect is protected by law in France. It frees workers from the obligation to answer emails after work hours, and it’s now becoming a hot topic in the UK, with a trade union pushing for an after-hours email ban. So if you’re feeling overwhelmed by your inbox, you’re certainly not alone.
But there are emailing habits you can adopt to stay productive while preserving your mental well-being, and some of the busiest executives have a few tricks up their sleeves when it comes to achieving that tricky balance.
“Considering the flow of emails I get every day, it’s just impossible to answer all of them and so I have learned to let go. I think a lot of professionals could be more productive by focusing on their to-do list and goals rather than answering endless emails that don’t always serve them,” says Julien Brault, CEO of fintech app Hardbacon.
And letting go doesn’t mean dropping off the face of the earth and ditching your work responsibilities. It’s about embracing a smart-emailing approach that will help you stay on top of your priorities without losing your sanity.
Ladders asked Brault to share his best tips on the topic to allow you to pick up new email-related habits and ditch the ones that are not serving you.
1. Don’t answer emails while on calls
Are you the type of person who answers emails while on a call or during a meeting? Before you multitask again, think twice — this habit can zap your energy while giving you the illusion of productivity.
“When we are super busy, we risk trying to answer emails between two meetings or worse, while on a call. It might feel productive, but if you have a call set up, it’s probably an important one and if distracted, you can end up with issues that go beyond email overload. Jumping on a call unprepared or simply being distracted throughout is likely not a good idea,” says Brault.
So resist the temptation to squeeze in emails while having other conversations.
2. Stop looking at your inbox non-stop
Brault recommends blocking off time once or twice a day to address emails and avoiding looking at your inbox in between.
Opening your inbox non-stop is a huge energy-draining habit hiding under the guise of busywork. What’s busywork? Tasks that keep you feeling busy but don’t add that much value to your day. Again, resist the urge and watch your productivity skyrocket and your stress levels decrease.
3. Never read an email without answering
“If you don’t have time to answer, then don’t look at it at all and avoid wasting your time,” says Brault.
That’s a pretty good philosophy when wanting to work smart and remain efficient, effective and mentally healthy. By allocating time in your schedule to dive into your emails and being disciplined about it, you’ll avoid some of the pitfalls of peaking into your inbox without replying right away: Forgetting about answering a message or feeling stressed about having to answer one while you tend to more urgent priorities.
4. Keep emails short and concise
Keep it short and drop the fluff, says Brault.
“Sometimes, all that is needed from you is a ‘yes’ or ‘no,’ or a couple of bullet points. You don’t need to write a novel to solve every issue.” And don’t worry too much about the risk of seeming rude. If curt replies are good enough for swamped execs, they’ll work for you too. Plus, it’ll make your message recipients’ life easier too.
5. Don’t aim to reply to every message
“It’s ok to not answer an email if you feel you have nothing to add,” says Brault.
Before aiming to catch up on every single group thread, ask yourself whether you truly have something relevant to say in the conversation.
6. Pick up the phone when needed
There are times when a good-old phone call is actually more simple than going back and forth in emails. While you certainly don’t want to jam-pack your schedule with phone calls that can be solved through a quick message, there is a time and a place for a phone conversation.
“Don’t be afraid to pick up the phone to solve an issue with a good old call. For complex issues or anything that requires tact, a phone call is often much more efficient than an email,” according to Brault.
7. Ditch the “inbox zero” mentality
Want to manage your emails without losing your mind? Forget about the whole “inbox zero” concept. Brault calls it a “rigorous approach to email management aimed at keeping your inbox empty,” but while it’s rigorous, it’s not always necessary.
“Not only does it put a lot of pressure on you to deal with emails regardless of your real business goals, it encourages you to delete emails. I like the idea that I can always use the search bar and find an old email that might contain useful information in the future whenever I need to,” he says.