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Work-at-home mom? 5 tips on becoming an email Jedi

Claire Zulkey wonders when she'll ever get used to the idea that she has two boys. She is the author of two books for young people, An Off Year and Best Frenemies. She and her filmmaker husband live in Evanston, IL. You can find out more...

Productivity expert Jocelyn Glei can help you master your inbox

I have a busy work-at-home career, but everything grinds to a halt if one of my kids is sick or day care is closed. I always aspire to get the most important things done at the top of the day just in case something goes south, but often I get panicked, triaging my messages and getting distracted by everything that rolls down the pike. That’s why I was so interested in productivity expert Jocelyn Glei’s new book Unsubscribe: How to Kill Email Anxiety, Avoid Distractions, and Get Real Work Done. After I read the book, I spoke with her to ask her for extra tips on how your average work-from-home parent can become better at controlling their email instead of feeling that gnawing guilt and dread every time you see yet another email notification.

1. Become a batcher, not a reactor.

Does this sound like you? “Reactors are constantly nibbling on their email throughout the day, very notification driven, always multitasking,” says Glei, whereas batchers set aside specific designated times each day to read and respond to emails, then stopping and ignoring it once they’re done batching. Glei says that research has shown clearly that batching is a more “effective and relaxed” way of working. When are your ideal batch times? Glei recommends taking a weeklong “inbox audit” to take note of when your heaviest email times are. “I work in Los Angeles, but with a lot of people in New York, so I tend to wake up to a ton of email because people have been working for three hours,” Glei says. If you notice trends in email urgency, schedule two or three email batching appointments with yourself around those periods. In her book, Glei recommends using Inbox Pause in order to focus on what you’re responding to without getting distracted by new messages.

More: 17 wildly unrealistic photos of moms working from home

2. Identify your VIPS

Despite the benefits of batching, many of us who work remotely can’t realistically disappear from email for long periods of time because it’s the way we remain in touch and prove we’re on the clock. Glei has advice on keeping up to speed with more pressing matters and not wasting too much time on the daily grind. In Gmail, she says, you can indicate which of your contacts are VIPs and set up your phone to receive push notifications when one of them emails you. She recommends adapting your VIPs frequently, per project. “When I was trying to get a book deal, my agent was a VIP, and now that my book is out, my publicist is a VIP.

3. Streamline SOS

For “SOS” messages (as in “same old shit”), Glei recommends using Gmail canned responses or the app Canned Text. Perhaps it’s just a quick “I will be there!” or a “Sorry, can’t make it” to fire off to your school’s parents’ association — whatever the message, you’ll save time not typing it out over and over.

4. Set up a fast filing system

For when you don’t have time to more thoroughly organize your email, Glei recommends setting up folders for a fast way to triage: “reply immediately,” “needs a reply but not immediately” and “optional.” Glei recommends the app EasilyDo for doing this easily via mobile, with handy options to unsubscribe or sort emails into piles like package tracking, receipts and travel-related messages.

More: Create a calming workstation

5. Cleanse your mental palate after an email session

“It’s important to have a reboot ritual,” says Glei, in order to clear your mind of the email chatter before you move onto a more creative project. “It can be one minute breathing exercises, a walk around the block or a five-minute meditation,” she says, saying that whatever your post-email ritual is, it should be “like a little Zamboni for your mind.” 

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