Inbox zero might as well be the lost city of Atlantis for most people. Between work and personal email addresses — not even counting Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and other social media — it’s nearly impossible to escape the constant uptick of unread messages that come in from every corner of the digital universe. As summer gets into gear and emails pile up over coveted vacations, we checked in with life coach Stacy Kim, founder of the company LifeJunctions about how to make sure email overload doesn’t take over our relaxing summers.
Tip #1: One thing at a time.
Unfortunately for us — and contrary to what many of our bosses believe — there is no such thing as multi-tasking, Kim says. “There is a lot of research about how our brains don’t really multitask. We don’t do two things at once, we just switch back and forth really quickly,” she says. All this switching between tasks is often the root of people’s anxiety and stress problems. “The more you can do just one thing at a time, I think that’s the number one suggestion that I give everybody,” Kim says. “And I try and remember that myself,” she adds, laughing. “For example, when I’m checking an email and somebody else pings me in any other format, I try not to respond until I’m done. If I do switch, I make a conscious decision to switch.”
Tip #2: A few focused minutes go a long way.
The email deluge can be particularly bad after taking a long weekend or a few days away from work. Kim says that to avoid stress, people should set aside a chunk of time and try to prioritize. “Go through very quickly and try to remember that when you go on vacation, you’re going to come back to a lot of email. Most people understand that and understand you won’t get back to them right away.” Prioritizing which emails need responses first is key to making sure they are dealt with. “You say: ‘I’m going to make a note of that’ and go to the next one,” she says. Kim says to aim for a chunk of focused minutes of email-checking. “When you check it, you may have to spend more time but you’re not goin got check it as often,” she says.
Tip #3: Inhale. Exhale. (Then do it again.)
What many of us don’t notice is that facing an email inbox stuffed with stress and anxiety can cause us to hold our breath — and that’s bad news for all kinds of things, according to Kim. “When you have to check your email, give yourself a few huge, deep breaths from your diaphragm,” Kim suggests. “Taking a moment to breathe really does help decrease your stress levels. I don’t think I can stop the emails — none of us can stop them — but what we can try to do is control the responses we have to them.”