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Tools and Tips to Free Yourself from Email Tyranny

Written By Flavia Arsenault | Apr 25, 2014

Despite its positive points, email drains us. At work, we sit at our computers with glazed eyes and crank through hundreds of emails a day. It leaves little energy for personal email or other fun digital pursuits (not you, Candy Crush) and zaps us of the attention we could better put toward face-to-face interactions with human beings, and being creative.

I thought I’d share some tools I’ve discovered that make email work for me, instead of the other way around.

Revive Your Inbox

From the saints who created Boomerang for Gmail, RYI is a 21-day program that sends you one new trick per day. Slowly but surely, you climb out from under the weight of needless emails, and develop strong habits to prevent the bad ones from cropping up again. These include the power of archiving, removing folders and labels, and unsubscribing to feeds you no longer need. Yes, my friends, there IS a way to attain inbox-zero on a daily basis.

Pick up the phone

You know how for every one email you send, you get three more back? For conversations that need a dialogue, pick up the phone instead. This is a good idea for setting up appointments, troubleshooting, negotiating, responding to clients’ needs, or wishing your grandmother a happy birthday.


Lately, I’ve been breaking my own rules. I’ve checked email from bed before going to sleep and immediately after waking up. It’s no good! There’s really no benefit to it, and I’ve felt the detrimental effect on my attention and energy levels. If you can, rip a page out of Tim Ferriss’ Four Hour Work Week and check it only twice a day. Keep yourself from checking during meetings, waiting in line, or hanging out with your friends. Your brain needs a rest, and those emails can wait a few hours. Unless you’re an emergency room doctor, you don’t need an intravenous email drip attached to you 24/7.

“Log out” or remove that account!

There’s a classic scientific experiment involving rats receiving an electrical shock or food. It found that we naturally seek out experiences that give us a surge of dopamine or adrenaline. Email does this to us, too. Every new email gives us a hit. Our bodies and brains get used to this chemical imbalance and compel us to keep checking. If you feel overwhelmed, log out or remove that email account from your phone so that you’re not tempted to check it. Your brain will thank you for the break.

Gmail/Google Apps

From searchability, to keyboard shortcuts, to creating events on your calendar with one click from an email, Gmail is by far and away the best program I’ve found to process emails quickly. If your company doesn’t use Google Apps, and you can’t convince them to switch, you can actually route your email through Gmail’s POP server and get all the benefits of a regular Gmail account, for free. Bam!

I’ve found that these techniques decrease the stresses of email. When I truly disengage, I’m more present and can focus my attention on the more important aspects of life: friends and family, creative projects, relaxing, and having fun. And when I come back to email, I can tackle it with my more powerful, creative and well-rested brain.

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