The 12-Step Program for Work-Email Rehab

Follow the road to recovery and more productivity with these email practices.

The 12-Step Program for Work-Email Rehab

 Step 7. Unsubscribe. Keep track of the daily mailing lists that you rarely read, and unsubscribe from them. Sorting through junk mail wastes energy.

Step 8. Respond to all non-VIP emails one by one in chronological order. If you have a VIP list of contacts who receive immediate attention, and you're triaging junk mail from important items, then you don't need to spend additional time dividing the remaining emails into "respond immediately" versus "wait till later" buckets. Use designated correspondence time to go through remaining messages chronologically. Either respond acknowledging receipt, or convert what needs to be done into a task for an upcoming day's to-do list. Don't banish any emails to one of your Siberian folders until you've taken the appropriate action required.

[Read: Put the Kibosh on Your Procrastinating Ways.]

Step 9. Take out the trash. Each day, delete items that you don't need for reference. Don't rely on your total recall skills to determine what's important and what's not in your inbox.

Step 10. Economize your outgoing mail. Stop sending useless correspondence that states the obvious – for instance, sending a client an email that reads, "I just left you a voicemail message." It's annoying to the recipient; plus, it's a waste of time for you. "It's easier to answer email than to do real work. And so it provides a way of rationalizing why you're not doing the tasks that would really add more value," Schwartz explains.

 Step 11. Breathe deeply. Linda Stone, a former high-tech executive for Apple and Microsoft, discovered she was holding her breath when sitting at her computer. She began an informal study in 2007, observing and interviewing approximately 200 people in her home, in cafes, offices and on the street regarding their physiology while using technology. She found about 80 percent were failing to breathe deeply, and called the phenomenon email apnea: shallow breathing or breath holding while checking email, working or playing games in front of a computer screen. "We inhale with anticipation. And usually with email, we're not in a position to breathe optimally because we're sitting with poor posture at a computer or curled over our smartphone," says Stone, who now writes and consults on tech issues.

The overall result is added stress to the body. "Listen around you and you'll hear people sighing while sitting at their computer," Stone continues. "What ends up happening is that these shallow breaths build up, and our body responds by sighing, or exhaling, to get some relief." Stone suggests performing deep breathing exercises at work and during off times. "Do what's necessary to stay embodied at your computer. Take a minute to deeply exhale. Singing in the shower or the car are other ways of learning to be embodied."

Step 12. Respond to emails only when you're at work. Treat downtime as sacred and abstain from email during weekends and vacations. The long-term effect will result in better performance and more energy while on the clock. "People say to me endlessly with some sense of unspoken pride that the only reason they answer email on vacation is that they can't bear the thought of coming back to an inbox of 1,000 emails," says Schwartz, adding that he knows from personal experience this isn't the case. He recently took a vacation to Europe and didn't bring his laptop or phone. "I came back from when I was offline to an inbox of several hundred [emails], but many of them were messages that didn't demand a response."