There is a saying (which originates from Shakespeare’s play As You Like It) about having ‘too much of a good thing.’
For example, a piece of cake for dessert is a delicious treat but eating the whole cake could make you feel ill. A fresh snowfall makes a fun day on the ski hill, but an avalanche of snow is dangerous.
There is a tipping point.
Something that is good in moderation stops being enjoyable or useful in large quantities.
That is true for email, particularly when you have ADHD.
Email is a helpful communication tool. Much quicker than snail mail and more effective than smoke signals.
And yet too much of it causes that overloaded feeling.
Email in large quantities is overwhelming to the ADHD brain.
It causes information overload and makes processing the email challenging because the large volume can cause the brain to freeze. That makes decision making hard and causes procrastination and anxiety to set in.
Here are six do’s and don’ts to help with email overload.
1. Do have set times to open your inbox.
Limiting the number of times you open your inbox to two times a day at predetermined times (perhaps 9 a.m. and 2 p.m.) is helpful for three reasons.
A. Makes prioritizing easy
When you know you will be checking your email only two times a day, there is a natural sense of urgency when you open your inbox. It feels like you are on a mission and without really being conscious of it, you naturally prioritize your emails
. You reply to important emails and write tasks that are complex and need more thought on your do to list. By default, there isn’t much time look at the non-important email or to follow links in a leisurely way. That really helps with the email overload.
B. Helps with transitions
Shifting gears from one task to the next is challenging for ADHDers. It takes a lot of mental and emotional energy. If your inbox is always open, you are constantly transitioning from email to other tasks. In this fatigued state, your email feels more overwhelming than if your brain is fresh.
C. Saves time
If your inbox is open all the time, it is human nature to be looking at it all day. Because tasks expand to fill the available time, most of your time will be spent reading emails, following links, etc. Then before you know it, it’s nearly bedtime, you don’t feel accomplished, and your inbox is still full which can lead to overwhelm.
2. Do use technology to help you.
Whether you use Gmail, Outlook or another program to read your email, there are some helpful tools you can use to avoid email overload.
Gmail, for example, automatically creates three tabs, Primary (real people that you know), Social (notifications from Facebook and other social networks) and Promotions (from companies).
If an email goes into the wrong tab, you can easily move it so that future emails will go in the appropriate tab.
Using tabs like this means you don’t have to sort through all your emails because the sorting has been done for you. You just need to process emails from your primary tab, which requires less mental effort because there are fewer emails to look at.
Once a week you could double check the other tabs in case something unexpected went into a different tab.
3. Don’t just check, reply
When you check your email, also reply. The exception to this rule is if it’s a very complicated or sensitive matter. If you read an email but don’t reply, chances are your head will be thinking about replying for hours. This can lead to overload, because an email that might take 10 minutes to write can feel like it’s taken four hours.
4. Do press unsubscribe
Press unsubscribe to newsletters and other mailings that you don’t enjoy or don’t get time to read.
5. Do ask to be removed from cc’s
Some people have a habit of cc-ing lots of people on every email they send. If it’s not relevant to you, ask to be removed.
6. Do maintain your boundaries
Sometimes people email you with things that are important to them but not for you. It can be easy to get caught up in their urgency, reply and do the requested actions. This is very generous and helpful of you, but can mean you aren’t moving your important work tasks forward.
Because the request has come via email, it can slip through your normal unconscious filter of whether something is in your job description.
Maintaining boundaries is hard when you have ADHD so this might feel scary at first. However, by not replying to these emails, the requests will slow down and even stop, which means fewer emails to process.
What helps you with email overload? Leave a comment below.