Control, Escape, and Delete Your E-mail Overload Problem

An overflowing inbox wastes your time, stresses you out, and can cost you credibility. Deal with your e-mail pile-up before it deals with you.

E-mail is the black hole of productivity.

Most ADHDers need an e-mail intervention. They're consumed by the stuff — either wasting hours responding to every message that comes in, or ignoring it all until their inbox is filled to the brim. E-mail is the black hole of productivity. Here's how to dig out of it:

1. E-mail is not a to-do list. People use e-mail to remember things that they need to do, but e-mail should not become a to-do list. When you get an e-mail from someone assigning you a task, job, or favor, put the request on your task list, reply that you will take care of it, and delete or archive the e-mail.

2. Preview before you click. Most e-mail programs let you look at the first few lines of a message via a separate window, so you can delete the junk.

3. Your e-mail works for you. When we hear that ding, we think, "Maybe it's something important or interesting. I must read it right away." Most e-mail is an interruption that distracts you from the task at hand. Designate a few times a day for tackling your inbox, maybe first thing in the morning and after lunch. Turn off sound alerts when you're doing work you need to focus on.

4. Flag e-mails for follow-up. Some ADDers don't reply to e-mail in a timely manner — or ever. This can hurt your credibility with people who depend on you. It's OK not to respond right away. But don't leave the person hanging. Use your e-mail system's "flag for follow-up" feature to designate e-mails that are awaiting your reply.

5. Don't be a wordsmith. Many of my ADHD clients have difficulty organizing their thoughts when responding to e-mail. Writing becomes a time-consuming process as they attempt to find exactly the right way to say what they mean. It sounds odd, but we distractible ADDers are obsessive. Don't obsess. Just spit it out.

6. Delete as you read. But don't overdo it. E-mail can be a great archiving device. Just be sure to keep important e-mail in folders on your hard drive.

7. Capture e-mails in folders. This is a great way to organize messages. You can have one folder for work messages and another for personal e-mails. Many systems allow you to create rules for incoming mail. I have a rule that says, "Put messages from [backcountryedge.com] into the Catalogs folder."

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