Start checking your e-mail less. Once an hour or less is where you should start. The first time I read about minimizing e-mail checking, it hit me like a ton of bricks. Why didn’t I think of this before? And, this makes so much sense.
But reading about a thing sometimes doesn’t have as much impact as hearing about it, which is why I was happy to run across Merlin Mann’s tech talk at Google on something he’s calling Inbox Zero. Merlin (of 43 folders fame) is advocating getting your inbox to zero to the point where he’s writing a book on the subject! It’s based on GTD (Getting Things Done). Get the book if you haven’t.
My experience with processing e-mail in this manner and checking it less frequently has probably mirrored other GTDers. It made an immediate impact on my productivity (and sanity), and while I still struggle to stay on top of my e-mail, I think that’s more so because I get too much and need to cut that down.
Keep in mind that getting too much e-mail may just be a symptom of a bigger problem you have, like you’re overbooked.
My other experience with it has been trying to convince my employers that not checking e-mail is a good thing. So many companies have come to rely on e-mail to the point where I think it makes most of them less productive, not more. It will probably be many more years before it becomes more commonly acceptable to be an e-mail minimalist, and/or to wear getting 100s of e-mails a day as a badge of honor.
Until then, hopefully more Merlins come along to help us mend our ways. Anyway, watch the talk. It’s only 30 minutes long, it goes by quickly, and you can stick around for the next 30 minutes to hear the Q&A with Googlers.