Of all the advice my father has so graciously provided over the years I am troubled most by his advice regarding company email. If I had only followed his advice sooner, I would have avoided so much conflict and misery.

I was visiting my parents when my father mentioned that his work had offered him a smart phone, but that he had politely refused. As I sat in utter disbelief, I silently wondered if senility could set in at such an early age, how much time would I have before my parents would require full-time care and quite possibly need to move in with me. Before I could schedule an appointment for him to be examined by a physician he uttered words that in retrospect I should have applied to my own life. “Why would I want to receive work emails nights and weekends? I work 10 hour days as it is, anymore than that and I’m a prisoner.” The same man, who once told me that if you have time for a hobby you should get a second job, was suggesting that there should be a limit to work emails. Could this man who has been known to eat lima beans from a can actually be on to something? Before I could finish my thoughts I was interrupted by an email and I let his advice slip my mind.

I didn’t see email quite the same way he did. I believed that with a smart phone I was free. I could take a day off to spend with my children and periodically check my email. Without a smart phone I would be chained to my desk. The reality is that I’m never in the moment. I’m actually in a constant state of interruption so my New Year’s Resolution is to take control of my time and I’m going to do it by managing my email.

The email guidelines are as follows:

1) Do not immediately respond to emotionally charged emails. If I can respond within the hour by phone I will do so, if not I will let the person know via email when they can expect a response. I will not perpetuate any misunderstandings or emotional unrest via email.

2) Always use the subject line. What good is email if you can’t use it as a record of events? It can take hours to sort through old emails with the subject line: re re re re, so even if I’m responding to an email lacking a subject line I will add my own before sending a response. This is also a courtesy to recipients of my email as they can quickly see what the subject is and determine importance. If possible add things like URGENT or FYI in the subject line.

3) Read the email twice and collect all information before responding. If this will take more than a few hours I will let the person know when they can expect a response. This will eliminate the back-and-forth that can suck hours out of the day. If someone emails asking for a shipping address and I leave out something like the zip code it will add a few more emails to the string.

4) Group emails. Instead of emailing a coworker each time I have a thought, I will create a draft email and add to it throughout the day. Sending one email instead of many will help me and the recipient.

5) Program my email so that each new email doesn’t pop-up on the screen or otherwise alert me. I will check email every few hours rather than every 5 minutes.

6) Be clear in my email. Specify by bullet point exactly what I am requesting and when I need it.

7) Set work hours and stick to them. Family time is family time and work time is work time. Sounds easy, but keeping myself from email in the evenings will be a challenge.

8) Organize my email. I will keep a folder of open items and completed by subject. I will save only what I really need. In a string of emails I need only save the last message as it will include the previous correspondence.

9) Set up a folder for newsletters and a folder for shopping. I will set up a rule that any coupon or shopping email subscription goes directly to that folder. I can check just once daily and delete any that I don’t plan to use. Informative subscriptions to blogs, magazines, etc. can go in their own folder. I will check those just once daily as well. I will unsubscribe to any website that sends me useless mail more than once a week. I like to know what the trends are or who is having a sale, just not every day.

They say it takes about a month to create a habit. If I can create healthy email habits in a month then I will buy myself a Penelope & Parker bag. (Since I have not yet decided which bag I want, this will give me a little time to make my decision.) If not, I won’t give up. I’ll give it another month or two. I’ll keep trying because like healthy eating I know this will improve my quality of life. I’ll keep you posted on my progress.

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