The problem with email is that most people use it inappropriately, which is detrimental both to our productivity, and to our well-being. A messy inbox is a stressful thing to deal with, and an inbox full of unread, old, or useless messages is a hassle to manage and a hindrance to effective work.
As we approach the new year, it may be time to have a look at how we manage our inboxes, and make a resolution to stop drowning in email. Here are 10 top tips from productivity and communications experts to help you get your inbox under control:
Act When You Have theTime:
One tip that comes up frequently is the reminder that not all email is alike! Some emails require more attention than others, so learning how to determine which mails require time and which don’t is key. Finding a system that helps you deal with longer responses is the first step to inbox nirvana:
“Don’t use your email inbox as a filing cabinet! It’s a communication tool, not a place you go to as a reference resource.
File It: a digital folder or print (if necessary) and file in physical file folder to refer to when needed.
Act on It: If it will take less than 2 minutes to handle, then handle it. If it requires more work/time on your part, add it to your action list or to-do list. Set a reminder and deadline to address it.
Delete It: If you do not need the information and there is no action required, delete it.”
Jill Prevatt, Simplify Organizing
“My recommendation for managing email is to review as often as you feel is necessary, process to zero at least a couple of times per week, and do what needs doing at the appropriate time.
Personally, I can let days go by where I just skim my messages on my phone, address some that need no response or just a quick reply. This is what I call reviewing. I only allow myself to do it on my phone, because using my computer introduces too much temptation to get drawn into email and then nothing else gets done.
…at least one day per week, I know I have to set aside a stretch of hours where all I have to do is process my inbox. Process to me means dealing with every single message, and either deleting it or otherwise moving it out of my inbox. When I’m done, my inbox will be empty, but this can only be accomplished if I halt the messages from downloading. I have my client set so that the messages only come in when I press the Send/Receive button.
Some things I will have to save to do at a later date, maybe because I need more information, or because it will take many minutes or hours to complete, or because I need someone else’s help. In this case, whatever action is required gets moved to my to-do list, so that I can do it when I have the answers, time, and resources available to me.
Review, Process, Do: this is the methodology I recommend for dealing with the constant barrage of email most people are subjected to on a daily basis.”
Maura Thomas, RegainYourTime
“Sort and process emails by sender or subject, not by date.
Most email programs are automatically set to receive messages in chronological order. But that doesn’t mean you have to process emails in this manner! Your interest lies in catching up on what happened, not when things happened. Simply sort your messages by sender or subject, and read through them. You can easily determine more important items, such as emails from a supervisor or client, versus those that are not, such as dated coupons, past meetings and announcements.
Read emails in reverse chronological order.
If you prefer to sort and process your emails by date, read them in reverse chronological order. This allows you to process your messages in a broad fashion, and then get down to details. While it will take a couple of minutes for you to process information, you’ll soon find patterns in your messages, and it will be easier to get the overall scope of the emails as they relate to one another.
Set adequate boundaries.
If you want to manage email properly, you must set boundaries. Otherwise, you’ll just allow the flow of email to rule your work projects and personal life. There are an infinite number of boundaries you can set, but what matters most is that they resonate with you and your professional and personal goals.
Here are a few boundary ideas to get you started:
• When to check email. At what time(s) of the day will you check email? What days of the week will you check email?
• When to log off from email. When will you log off so you can focus on working or personal items?
• When to send an email. Is it even necessary to send an email?”
Raschelle Isip, The Order Expert