Escaping email slavery: How to be email free by the end of 2010 (or: How to greatly reduce email)

Robin asked me how I plan to go email free. Instead of emailing her back, I decided to write a blog about my three email accounts and what I am doing to better manage each in 2010.

I can’t even remember the last time I used my  Yahoo! account. But I check it once a month so it won’t go away because I have addresses and other information that that I don’t use but can’t bring myself to part with. Each month of this year when I check the account, I am spending 15 minutes shrinking the content by either archiving it elsewhere or trashing it. I will close this account on or before December 31, 2010.

I use .mac as my personal account. I won’t give it up for good because let’s face it, even though I want to be email free the rest of the world doesn’t feel the same way. is my work account and clearly, it’s not going to go away. But we’ve taken steps in our office over the past year that have helped to significantly reduce the amount of email we get. I’m down from 200+ to less than 100 email a day now.

12 steps:

1)         PRE-TEACH: Tell the people that you communicate with via email that you’re implementing change.

2)         PURGE: Get off every list that you don’t need or want to be on.

3)         UNCHECK: You do not need to be informed immediately that you have a Facebook friend request, a message has been sent to your LinkedIn group or that a new person is following you on Twitter. Uncheck those boxes.

4)         AUTOMATE: Establish rules to sort messages into different folders (and don’t forget you can apply a rule for specific messages to the trash)

5)         DELEGATE: Is there someone else who could/should be taking action on your messages? You can establish rules to forward specific messages to someone else.

6)         GROW: This is going to sound like I am substituting cigarettes for alcohol but it’s not as counterintuitive as it sounds: Grow your social networks. You can connect with people en masse on Facebook and with the 140-character limit on Twitter, direct messages are much faster to read and reply to than email.

7)         SCHEDULE: You do not need to check email 24/7. Set a schedule. Currently I check my personal email on Sundays, more often if I feel like it or need to. Email is delivered to my work inbox once every 30 minutes. At most I check once each hour but often only 2-3 times a day.

8)         INFORM: I completely lifted this idea from colleague and pal Gini Dietrich. I love it and it works! Craft auto responses to incoming messages to let people know about your schedule. If you’re out all day for a meeting and set the expectation that you’ll follow up the next day, no one will get mad at you or think you’re ignoring him or her. The real benefit of this is that people will think twice about sending you email. It’s amazing how this practice has reduced the amount of email I receive.

9)         EAT AND PLAY GAMES: Every weekend I get together with friends– sometimes old friends, sometimes new friends, to eat and play games. This way we connect and talk about what’s going on in my world and in theirs in person and not via email. And we get to laugh and touch each other– two things we can’t do electronically.

10)       THINK FIT: It’s more fun and you’ll feel better if instead of sending email back and forth with a friend you get together and take a walk to catch up.

11)       BOX IT UP: I manage my time by timeboxing and I organize my workload by putting things in boxes– folders (see step 4); literal boxes, baskets and spaces on the shelves in my office and virtual boxes in Basecamp, the project management tool our company uses. This is great for me because everything is where I need it, when I need it. How it relates to email is especially apparent in Basecamp, where our team shares files, to do items and messages related to specific projects.

12)       THE GOLDEN RULE: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

If anything here resonates, share a comment or you can thank me by gifting Bartlett Arboretum (Robin serves as its steward) with a visit or a check. Bartlett Arboretum turns 100 in 2010. Your support will help her grow for another 100 years.