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Full Time, All the Time

with Britt Reints

Forget the 9 to 5; the demands of a working mom aren’t limited by a time clock. Full Time, All the Time is a blog about balancing the many roles of a modern woman - and maintaining your wellbeing while doing it. I am a writer, mother, wife, sister, daughter, friend and sometimes volunteer living in Pittsburgh. Oh, and I think you look pretty today.

You can also find Britt on Twitter and at

Learning how to manage my inbox without burdening yours

Categories: office life


It is 11:00 am and I am just now getting started with my real work today, despite the fact that I’ve been at the computer for about three hours.  Why?


Something must be done.

It’s driving me crazy how frequently I end up spending twice as much time at the computer than anticipated.  I’ve worked hard to ensure that I only need to get paid for about 4 hours worth of work a day, and yet I routinely spend 8-12 hours a day stuck behind a screen.  I know that email is a huge part of this and I’m determined to figure out a way to get a handle on this issue.

I’ve written before about the idea of not checking email first thing in the morning.  I still believe that’s a brilliant idea, but I haven’t been able to stick to it.  I can’t seem to get settled into work until I’ve checked my email.  But here I am, three hours into my workday with nothing but “checked email” accomplish.

Honestly, spending time first thing in the morning handling email might not be that big of a deal if I didn’t also constantly check email throughout the day.

I tend to use GMail as my homepage.  I take advantage of labs and have my Remember the Milk task list, Google Calendar reminders, and a list of my most frequently accessed Google Documents all readily available right next to my inbox.  Unfortunately, I am constantly aware that someone, somewhere, wants something from me.  It pulls me out of my flow or prevents me from even getting into a good flow in the first place.

Something must be done.

This morning, I decided to set up an autoresponder that would let people know that I am only going to be checking email twice a day. It would provide a way to get a hold of me if something is really urgent.  I had received similar autoresponders from colleagues before and thought it was a great idea.  I headed to Google for autoresponder suggestions, and stumbled on an insightful blog post from Peter Shankman.

The gist of the post is this:

Autoresponders in most cases are a pain in the butt for the people receiving them and should be used sparingly and thoughtfully.

He made a point.  In fact, he made several really good points.  And his commenters went on to make more points, one of which really resonated with me:

In trying to make myself more productive, I would end up making everyone else less productive. How much time do people cumulatively have to spend deleting those “I’m trying to be more productive” autoresponders?

I hate it when people don’t respect my time.  I loathe the “reply all” function on email because it is used about 100 times more often than it is needed.  I hate mailing lists that don’t have the option to respond to just the original sender.  I have, as I’ve mentioned (am mentioning), a big enough problem with handling email without having to read “Yep!” and “LOL” from 23 different people.

How can I expect people to respect my time if I’m not going to show them the same courtesy?

I’m not going to be setting up a “I’m terribly busy and so only check email twice a day” autoresponder.  Instead, I’m going to attempt to tackle my email problem by:

  • Checking email twice a day - no one needs to know this.  They can see if they aren’t getting an immediate response from me and figure out that they need to try another means of communication if it’s urgent.  Most people already know that email is not for emergencies.
  • Setting a timer when I check my email - I work best under pressure. I’m going to try and fake a sense of urgency that pushes me to get in and get out of my email.
  • Not using GMail as my homepage - I can’t decide if I’m going to try accessing my email through Outlook or another pop server in order to help with this, or if I’m going to rely on self discipline.  Sadly, discipline alone has not worked well for me in the past.
  • Turning off all unnecessary notifications - I don’t need to know every time someone tags me in a photo on Facebook.  I’ll find out when I log into Facebook, which I’ll be less tempted to do without constant email notifications.
  • Setting all group emails to digest mode - I’m nervous about this one because I work with a few groups that rely heavily on Google’s group email function, but the reply all feature gets seriously abused.
  • Unsubscribing - I’ve been doing this slowly and hope to continue to do this. If I notice I’m constantly deleting the same emails over and over again, it’s a sign that newsletter or notification site is not a priority for me and needs to go.

That’s my current plan.  I’m most worried about having the discipline to NOT go to GMail.  It’s a procrastinator’s best friend and I am a master procrastinator.

Do you have a handle on your email?  Have any tips you can share with me?

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5 comments so far...

  • I currently have….wait for it…..5,208 UNREAD emails in my inbox.

    I finally set up that priority inbox which only gives me the emails I WANT to see. On one hand, this is awesome because I don’t miss the important stuff as often anymore. On the other hand, I forget about all of the “little” things that are below that thick black line.

    I set my goal to “unsubscribe” to at least one junk thing each day - I know I could do more because it only takes a minute but it’s just such a pain in the ass (to me) so I do only one. I also aim to delete at least fifty of the “junk” emails a day. Eventually, I’ll stop getting less junk because I’m unsubscribed to so many things and it’ll become more manageable.

    If it’s important, I respond and file it right away. If it’s not important, I delete it. Of course, you probably get a lot more important email than I do.

    Set your timer. Check your e-mail for that amount of time, then close it and move on. Easier said than done, I know….but good luck!

    Sheila  |  January 26th, 2011 at 1:29 pm

  • I use outlook for e-mail and have categories set up for all my different projects. I categorize every e-mail that comes in so that I can focus on specific projects at a time. Everytime I address an e-mail, it gets filed (or I dedicate a day a week to this if I am too busy). That leaves my inbox as my “to-do”list.

    Erin  |  January 26th, 2011 at 6:46 pm

  • I got tired of this same problem last year and took a step back, thought about how I naturally work (none of the tools I had used ever helped me because they forced me to work in ways that I just didn’t do well) and the way I think about my work. I made myself a rule that nothing stays in my inbox. Everything that comes in gets filed right away, either in TO DO - Billable, TO DO - Bus Dev, TO DO - Misc. and TO READ. That way, I can do a quick read through what’s in my inbox at periodic intervals and organise all the emails into action-oriented categories that mimic how I do my work. When I am ready to work through my billable stuff, I attack one project at a time, find all the messages in my TO DO - Billable mailbox that are relevant to that project, and get it done. It’s the very fine psychological difference between having an inbox that keeps getting bigger and bigger where I can see everything at once and get distracted, not knowing where to start, and having everything organised in a way that enables me to work through in a structured fashion. I can’t tell you what a difference it’s made. I haven’t had more than 5 items in my inbox for almost a year since I started this.

    Stephanie  |  January 27th, 2011 at 12:34 am

  • Getting excited about reading more. Great post.Really getting excited about read more. Continue writing.

    Phoebe Netherton  |  March 12th, 2012 at 9:07 am

  • I like and appreciate your blog post.Really looking forward to read more. Continue writing.

    Josue Benevides  |  March 24th, 2012 at 4:26 pm