1. IDENTIFY THE PROBLEM
A client of mine used to struggle with her emails; the thought of her inbox made her feel sick to the point where she actually started avoiding reading her emails altogether. At one point she had 16,000 unread messages! But instead of tackling them she’d just set up a new email account and the circle would start all over again. Perhaps your inbox issues aren’t that drastic (I hope not!) but I think we all feel overwhelmed by our e-correspondence at times.
2. TURN OFF EMAIL ALERTS
I used to be totally addicted to checking my inbox; rushing to my inbox every time the little yellow flag appeared at the bottom right hand corner of my screen. If this is you, then bite the bullet and turn off those email notifications. It might sound counterproductive, however, not chasing up the source of every ping will improve your overall productivity, .
3. SET A CHECK-O’CLOCK
Check your emails only at designated times. The frequency will depend on your job, so think (honestly) about how often this needs to be. But even setting four, half-hour ‘inbox checks’ a day is better than scanning every five minutes. If you find the idea of ignoring emails too drastic, start by setting aside five minutes at the end of every hour. Try checking every 90 minutes and then extend it. I’ve found what works best for me is to leave a gap of 120 minutes before I check my inbox again. Don’t make a rod for your own back by answering every email immediately otherwise you create an expectation that you will always do so.
4. HAVE FAITH IN FOLDERS
Most of us file emails into categories: personal, projects, clients, etc. However, ‘actionable’ and ‘non-actionable’ emails should also be stored separately, so you’re not constantly sifting through the latter to find the former. For example, I use a number ‘one’ to prefix my regularly used folders for any current or urgent client or project work. When that project eases off or is completed the folder is archived and I remove the ‘one’ so that folder sits alphabetically within the rest of the clients. Filters are also fantastic because it automatically puts a new email into the folder you have specified, which is particularly useful for newsletters and group emails. I’m a member of numerous groups on LinkedIn and any notifications I receive from them automatically filter into my LinkedIn folder.
5. READ IN BATCHES
I try to only ‘touch’ an email once if possible. If I can deal with an email in less than two minutes, then I do so on the first ‘open’. Reading it, replying to it, answering a question, forwarding it to someone appropriate or setting a clear time-limit to the sender about how soon I can supply them with a response. Then I file it as mentioned above.
6. MOVE IT OR LOSE IT!
Do not use your inbox as a storage container. Once you have read an email, delete or file it, or make an action point to do so. Keep as few emails as possible in your inbox and only retain those [that] are highly important and relevant. You don’t need to keep every email you receive. If you have thousands in your inbox, copy anything older than a week or month and move it into a folder marked ‘old emails’. Be ruthless.
7. MAKE A CLEAN BREAK
So many of our emails are trying to sell us something we don’t want, and when a promotional email arrives it can be tempting to just hit delete, rather than take long-term action. Instead, take long-term action and unsubscribe. How often do you get around [to] reading it? Would it be more useful for you to follow their news on Facebook or Twitter? You can always subscribe again if you start to miss it. For non-vital newsletters that might be useful for work, I use a separate email address, which prevents my main inbox from becoming clogged up. Newsletters go straight into their own separate folder, which I read when I’m at a loose end (on a bus or waiting for a meeting).
Andrea Osborne is owner of Cushion The Impact – an award winning lifestyle management concierge companies based in London helping hundreds of individuals and small business owners make the most of their personal, home and business lives.