How to set limits with email and get your inbox under control

Effectively managing your inbox is essential

Achieving "inbox zero" isn't feasible for everyone. In an essay for Inside Higher Ed, Tanya Golash-Boza, an associate professor of sociology at the University of California, Merced, shares three tips for wrangling your email—even if you can't be perfect.

Golash-Boza writes that between advising students, working on research, and committee work, she receives about "100 emails every weekday." While she has managed to devise a system for clearing out all of her emails each day, she acknowledges that the approach may not be for everyone.

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Golash-Boza offers three email-management rules if "you are not ready to take the plunge and get to a zero inbox."

1: Remember that most emails can wait

This rule, Golash-Boza explains, is all about priorities. "When you check your email first thing in the morning, you are attending to everyone else's needs before even thinking about what is most important for you to accomplish that day," she writes.

Instead, Golash-Boza suggests setting aside 30 minutes in the morning to respond to important messages and time in the afternoon to follow up on emails that are less urgent.

2: Limit temptation when you need to work

Checking email is only half the battle, Golash-Boza notes. You also have to respond. But writing is very challenging when you are distracted by new email notifications. "The solution," she says, is to make sure you turn off all of your notifications when responding to emails.

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While it might be hard for some people to disconnect, Golash-Boza says that setting expectations that you will only respond at certain times will give you "permission to be unavailable" for the rest of the day.

3: Make time to unplug

Set a deadline each evening to "unplug" from the Internet. Golash-Boza recommends putting away all of your devices about an hour before bed, and, if possible, keeping them "out of your bedroom." Checking email before bed can disrupt sleep and emotional news might make it impossible to fall asleep at all.

"In sum," Golash-Boza writes, "in order for email to have less control over your life, you need to start to take control of it" (Golash-Boza, Inside Higher Ed, 2/5).

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