The Dummies’ Guide to Not Letting Emails Take Over Your Life

I probably owe you a little honesty here before we begin… My relationship with email was always a bit on the “hate” side. I mean, even though email has been a crucially important tool for my career, I’ve spent most of my professional life hating it, and feeling like it has taken control of my life entirely.

Here’s how I got out of the craze, with these three simple changes, and how you can too:

1. Don’t do email first thing in the morning

The problem is that, very often, we’re tempted to just jump into our inbox for a minute in the morning to handle a couple of incoming messages and then get to our normal work.

This is a big mistake. Those couple of incoming messages often turn into a two-hour long session where we’re forced to put out one fire after another.


On top of that, we’re effectively handing over control of our life to other people. We’re no longer the ones deciding what we’re going to do with our time. Others are. All they need to do is send us an email.

2. Check email twice a day

So the other tactic that’s been working exceptionally well for me is bothering with email only twice a day. This goes back to the idea of not giving other people the possibility to control our lives.

How to do this? Some guidelines:

  • Turn off all notifications coming from your email software, Gmail, and email apps on your phone/tablet. And I do mean all of them!
  • Dedicate two specific hours within your day when you’ll be handling email. Try going with 10AM and 3PM, for example.
  • Don’t enter your inbox at any other time.

Try the above for a week and see how it improves your life.

3. Get it out of the inbox

Make sure to never keep any kind of messages that need your attention in the inbox.

Here’s what I mean. I always used to treat my inbox as a container of sorts to store most of the things that needed my input. For instance, when someone emailed me a document to check, or an editor sent me some feedback about one of my articles, I used to put a star next to that email and then intended to come back to it later.

This sounds fine at first, but over time, the number of starred emails grew so much that I couldn’t wrap my head around what I should be doing next.

Luckily, there’s a solution. Whatever message you get, force yourself to take some kind of action on it that would take that email out of your inbox right away. For example, what I do:

  • I either take the exact action that the email requires me to take.
  • I put some task related to the email either on my to-do list or in my calendar.
  • I send the email to someone else who can take action on it.
  • I delete it and do nothing about it.

That’s it! Three simple tactics.

Lastly, let me just tell you, seeing this magic number of “0” next to your inbox is a great thing, especially in this hectic day and age.

Karol K.
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