Fixing Your Anxiety Potholes: 5 Strategies for a More Efficient and Less Anxious Life (Part One)

This post is part of a five-part series dedicated to Fixing Your Anxiety Potholes.  Click here to read the rest of the series.

If your life is riddled with anxiety potholes, you have one stressful life! Anxiety potholes are pockets of anxiety that can sideline you at any time, making your life’s path very bumpy and full of hazards. They can often seem to pop up out of nowhere, or with no apparent reason, although they certainly exist for a reason. Part of that reason may be you.

No kidding?

No kidding. A large part of daily stressors that contribute to problematic anxiety are the result of our own ineffective and inefficient behaviors in other areas of our lives. Those behaviors pump our lives full of stress, leaving us ripe for more severe anxiety issues. The stress also creates the potholes that totally muck up our chances for a smooth ride. Even if we take a stab at ways to reduce the stress and anxiety, the ride will never be smooth unless we can fill in those potholes. This series of five articles will show you how.

Fixing Your Anxiety Potholes: 5 Strategies for a More Efficient and Less Anxious Life is going to give you five incredibly useful techniques that can help you fill in the potholes and alleviate anxiety. Each article focuses on one of the techniques, offering a background on the concept as well as actionable steps you can take to employ the strategy in your own life.

The five pothole-repairing topics on the agenda are:

  • The Anxiety-Free Inbox: Managing Overwhelming Email
  • The Power of Focused Attention: Mastering Myopia
  • Using To-Do Lists Effectively and Exiling Tasks
  • Selling Your Stress: The Magic of Personal Outsourcing
  • Your Power Hour: How an Hour in the Morning Can Help Squash your Anxiety

Let’s start by conquering that awful black hole, otherwise known as your email.

The Anxiety-Free Inbox: Managing Overwhelming Email

Your work day usually starts the same. You sit down on at your desk, switch on your computer, go right to your email inbox – and scream. Variations of the scream may be cursing, moaning or, for those with very deep anxiety potholes, just switching the computer back off and calling it a day.

And you’re not to blame. The average Joe or Jane gets 147 email messages each day, according to an analysis from the email management service Baydin. Nearly half of them, or 48 percent, are promptly deleted, a process that can eat up around 20 minutes per week from just getting rid of the messages.

If you’re like most folks with an office or desk job, you spend nearly 30 percent of your work time working on whittling down your inbox or other email management tasks. A July 2012 McKinsey Global Institute report on “the social economy” put the figure at 28 percent, or more than 11 hours of your 40-hour work week. With that kind of time dedicated to email, however, you’re probably ending up working more than 40 hours since a lot of other things aren’t getting done.

Constantly checking emails is a massive distraction. Not only does it interrupt or workflow, but it wastes additional time and energy when we are finished checking and must refocus on what we were supposed to be doing in the first place.

So why do we keep doing it?

Personal development trainer and blogger Sid Savara came up with seven reasons that may explain why we have the urge to constantly and consistently check our emails:

  1. We use our inbox as our “to do” list, making checking it necessary as they complete each task.
  2. We keep all their files and documents stored in the email program.
  3. Once in a bright blue moon, we may actually get an email upon which we must act immediately.
  4. Humans are programmed to seek out new information. We are only human.
  5. The email program is always open
  6. It’s become a totally ingrained habit.
  7. We’ve become psychologically dependent on email, always looking for any new mail and then judging the how “good” a new email is and whether or not we can act on it.

Killing off some of the reasons are pretty easy, such is closing our email program if it’s always open, employing a different type of to do list, and keeping files and documents in a different filing system and. Email files make it incredibly tough to find anything anyway, according to Baydin CEO Alex Moore. He says its actually more efficient to scroll through your inbox or store emails you want saved in a general “archives” folder and use the search function.

Combating the other reasons we perpetually check our emails may be a bit trickier. For the urgent emails, Savara suggests telling all your correspondents that they need to call to alert you to check for any time-sensitive messages. If you’re waiting for an email reply to something you sent, scheduling a day to follow-up with the person if you don’t hear back can get the message out of your mind and off your constant radar.

Recognizing a psychological dependence on email is the first step to breaking that dependence. Savara says some may check emails so frequently in a bid to recreate what it feels like to get that “good” email, even though most of them are not worth a damn whatsoever. Setting up a reward system, where you reward yourself with your benefit of choice, can be a positive way to remind yourself to cut down on the useless email checking.

New shoes at the end of the week if you only check emails once a day!

As far as the information seeking and email checking as a habit, both can be largely unproductive, especially when the former is really just a way to kill off boredom. Using email checking as a front when you don’t feel like doing “real” work falls into this category, too. Take a walk, take a bath, take the dog for a walk or give the dog a bath. Just don’t keep mindlessly checking your email!

That still doesn’t take care of the overloaded inbox.

 Whittling down your overloaded inbox and the time suck caused by email management can be achieved through a series of strategies. Maybe one or two will be enough for you to transform your massive inbox into a manageable collection. Maybe you’ll need to use them all. Experiment with as many or as few of the strategies that apply to your personal situation to make your own inbox less terrifying.

5 Ways to Use Your Email More Effectively

Set an email-checking schedule. Instead of checking your emails every time the wind blows, set a specific time each day where you process all the emails you need to process in batches. Say you go for checking your inbox three times per day: in the morning, after lunch, and an hour before finishing work for the day. Set aside segments of time to do so, allowing you to reply, delete or do whatever else you need to do with your email at that specific time.

Have canned responses at the ready. If you find yourself typing the same reply messages again and again, write up stock responses to the most common replies you have to send, then grab the canned response when appropriate. Sending out two dozen messages that start with: “Thank you for your inquiry. Our general policy is….” goes a heck of a lot faster when you don’t have to type the same text two dozen times.

Unsubscribe to all that crap! Chances are a big chunk of the emails you delete are newsletters, stock messages, updates or other things to which you somehow became subscribed and don’t even read. You can unsubscribe from each by individually going into each message and following unsubscribe instructions.

You can also try a program called that keeps subscription emails of your choice out of your inbox. is free and you can re-subscribe to any if you change your mind, but it currently only works with Gmail or Google apps. That means other email program users are out of luck until expands or you switch over to Gmail. Check it out at

Consolidate your email accounts into one central inbox. As logic would suggest, checking multiple email accounts in multiple programs wastes even more time than checking a single inbox for all emails you receive, period. Consolidating all your email accounts into one inbox is possible through Gmail. Instructions from tell you how:

  1. Find the “Settings” section of your Gmail account in the upper right on your Gmail page right below your little profile picture
  2. Click “Accounts and Import” tab
  3. Go to “Check mail from other accounts (using POP3):” and click “Add a POP3 mail account you own”
  4. Enter the email address you want to add; click “Next Step”
  5. Enter Username and Password for the email account you just added
  6. Change the default information in the POP Server field if necessary; the default adds info for hotmail, AOL, Yahoo! and other major webmail services.
  7. Enter your server’s Port information if it differs from the default
  8. Check “Leave a copy of retrieved message on the server” if you want a duplicate copy of the email for reference or other reason.
  9. Click “Add Account.”

Act on every single message that enters your inbox. Don’t worry, every action does not have to be long and involved, it just needs to ensure you keep your inbox as tidy and manageable as possible. recommends this technique, using one of four actions for each and every message you touch. Get to a message and either delete, delegate, defer or do. Here are more details:

  • Delete it/Archive it
  • Delegate it to someone else
  • Defer it, meaning leave it there or move it to read later
  • Do, or respond to the email as necessary

While some of the techniques may take a bit of getting used to or actually feel like they are wasting more time while you’re learning them, they will eventually fall into place and help at least the deepest depths of those anxiety potholes.

Up next is another technique that will throw additional cement into the mix and fill up the potholes even further. Stay tuned (and focused!) for The Power of Focused Attention: Mastering Myopia.

This post is part of a five-part series dedicated to Fixing Your Anxiety Potholes.  Click here to read the rest of the series.