Get Control of Your Inbox on Email Debt Forgiveness Day

Confess. You've got emails sitting in your inbox that make you feel guilty and anxious. They're the ones you should have replied to long ago, but you put off responding for some reason. Irrationally, that initial delay then led to even more procrastination. Now the delay itself has become a source of embarrassment, and you've decided to pretend the email doesn't exist. Perhaps it's just one email that deserves a reply. More likely there are quite a few.

Your salvation is here. Email Debt Forgiveness Day on April 30 is your motivation to send all those emails you've ignored for far too long.

You're not the only person guilty of email procrastination. So far, nearly 27,000 email slackers have retweeted writer Melissa Miller's painfully true observation:

When you reply to emails, you give other people answers they need. You help colleagues solve problems. You let people cross off something from their to do list. By replying to long-neglected emails, you also free up your attention and mental energy for more important tasks.

Are you ready to do your coworkers, friends, and yourself a favor by replying to emails on Email Debt Forgiveness Day?

How to conquer your inbox

1. Block time on your calendar

The rule of the Email Debt Forgiveness Day is leave no email without a reply. That means you need to give yourself enough time to reply to everything in your inbox. If only a handful of emails are causing you grief, block an hour or two. If email procrastination is one of your most pronounced character flaws, consider blocking the entire morning or even the whole day. And, since April 30 falls on a Sunday in 2017, if you're tackling work email, schedule time on the previous Friday or following Monday.

2. The big day: April 30

Eliminate all distractions. Log out of social media. Turn off your phone ringer and notifications. If you're in the office, put up a 'Do Not Disturb' sign so your colleagues don't interrupt your productivity.

3. Get organized

Sort your inbox so you can attack the oldest emails first. While these aren't necessarily the hardest replies to write, they're probably the source of your most intense delay-related embarrassment.

4. Attack

Take a deep breath. You got this.

Open the most ancient email that awaits your reply. Don't look at the date the email was sent. If it helps, pretend that it landed in your inbox minutes ago. Carefully re-read the email.

You don't need to explain and apologize for the delay. Definitely don't concoct a barely plausible excuse or try to pass the blame. It probably doesn't make sense to draw attention the delay at all. It's entirely possible that the other person hasn't even noticed the delay. Just dive right in to the meat of your reply, ignoring all the time that has passed. You might add a note below your email signature that says "It's Email Debt Forgiveness Day. Learn more: gimletmedia.com/email-debt-forgiveness-day/"

If the other person could be confused or offended by your belated reply, don't say "I'm sorry." A more reassuring, calming approach is to express your gratitude by writing "Thank you for your patience."

A comic strip by Yao Xiao encouraging people to say Thank You instead of Sorry

Excerpt from comic by Yao Xiao

Keep your reply short and to the point. Try following the 3 Sentence Email Rule to bring greater productivity to your inbox. When possible, do not reply all. If you don't need the other person to reply, do them a favor and say so in your email.

Even if what you need to say is too complicated or emotional for email, still write that reply. But, rather than going into detail in your response, ask when the other person can hop on the phone or video chat to discuss the topic.

When you're ready, hit 'Send' — then keep the momentum going by immediately opening the next email that needs a reply. Repeat until you've replied to every email you've been putting off.

5. Rejoice

Whether you responded to one email or one hundred, you've accomplished something meaningful. Close your email program and give yourself a well-deserved break from your screen.

Will you reply to emails for Email Debt Forgiveness Day? Tell us about it by writing a comment below.

Lauren Girardin is a marketing and communications consultant, writer, and speaker based in San Francisco. She helps organizations engage their communities and tell their stories. Her website is laurengirardin.com and you can connect with her on Twitter at @girardinl.

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