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This is a guest post by entrepreneur Dmitri Leonov

Everybody I know is suffering from email overload, but entrepreneurs have it especially bad. There are about 50 hours of work in a 24 hour day, and email becomes a huge chunk of it.

All of us have tried to get better at email. For those that aren’t glued to their smartphones and check our inbox at set times during the day, it feels like never enough.


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While developing a company to help busy folk manage their email, I have thought long and hard about optimal email workflow, and have come up with an extensive list of rules and tips. It will require a substantial shift in your thinking about email, but this rule will change your life: don’t make clearing your Inbox your top priority.

There’s an inherent gamification in clearing your inbox. It feels productive and provides a brief feeling of accomplishment. But as we all know, this feeling is not only fleeting, but has a dangerous flip-side — processing email is a reactive activity. When you let other people set your priorities, you’re not in control of your time, and this should be a deal-breaker for entrepreneurs.

You won’t respond to every email — and that’s okay!

Get comfortable with the idea that some of the emails in your inbox will never get responded to. And that’s ok. Imagine a world where you don’t have to respond to an email just because it’s there. It’s ok if you choose to, but not because someone else decided for you. Feels good, doesn’t it?

Set your priorities

Whenever you sit down to check email, ask yourself, “Is clearing the inbox the best use of my time? Is there really nothing more valuable I can do?” If you can’t find any higher priority things that will actually grow the business, by all means spend time on your email. And if there’s an email that directly aligns with your top priorities, then it’s a win-win for you and your inbox.

It’s completely ok if on some days “Clearing the Inbox” is in your top five to-do’s. In fact, eventually it needs to be. The problem is that email has become the default top-priority without us even realizing it. We spend 28 percent of our time on email but when we think about our priorities, email isn’t even on there.

There are two types of emails:

  1. Ones that require actual work.
  2. Ones that just need to be “dealt with” (responded to, forwarded, filed etc).

While we tend to be more afraid of the former because nobody likes more work, the sheer volume of the unimportant mail adds up. Research on interruptions shows that the second kind are very harmful to productivity — it takes 1.5 minutes to read and recover from an average email. Since most email clients and webmail UIs allocate the same amount of screen real estate to each email, our brain is tricked into giving them the same amount of attention.

However, not all emails are created equal: some emails need to be dealt with right away (important/urgent), others can wait until later (important/ non-urgent), and everything else should be processed in bulk (unimportant.) In other words, you should have a prioritization system even within your inbox.

As venture investor Chris Sacca once tweeted, “Your inbox is a to-do list other people can write on. Focus on your own to-do list. Stay on the offensive.”

Dmitri Leonov leads business development, sales and marketing efforts at SaneBox. Prior to Sanebox, hefounded Wanto, a social networking app which brings together people with common goals. Previously Dmitri spent several years at Overture (acquired by Yahoo) in a number of sales strategy and business development roles. He was responsible for launching Yahoo’s Global Reseller Channel, and led business development efforts in Emerging Markets. Dmitri graduated from UC Berkeley with a BS in Finance.

Top image via Shutterstock 

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