Who among us hasn’t been caught behind the email eight-ball from time to time, or even all the time? Within the span of barely a generation, email has gone from the esoteric province of university researchers and computer geeks to something we all receive far too much of on a daily basis.
How much of your work day is spent trying to tame your brimming inbox? Probably more than we’d like to admit. But getting — and staying — on top of your email situation isn’t a mission impossible. There are practical steps you can take to maximize inbox efficiency and minimize the stress of having dozens, even hundreds, of emails greeting you each day.
Check out these 10 helpful tips you can get started on today, in no particular order:
Don’t open an email unless you’re ready to deal with it: Constantly checking your email messages, even when you don’t have the time, energy or desire to tackle everything they contain, is a waste of time and focus. For this reason, eschew checking your inbox first thing in the morning. After all, how prepared are you to deal with those weighty problems right after you roll out of bed?
Stay organized: Take advantage of inbox features like folders and, for Gmail, labels to make finding and organizing emails much easier. The few seconds it will take you to store an email now could save you many minutes of frantic searching later.
Turn off alerts: Not only are email alerts annoying, they’re also quite distracting. Save your attention for getting the job done, not getting sidetracked by your best friend’s wedding photos or the latest NBA news.
“Yesterbox” today: Procrastinators will love this one. Quite simply, “yesterboxing” is answering yesterday’s emails today, and answering today’s emails tomorrow. It takes some creative thinking. Use this helpful technique with discretion — of course, more urgent emails should be dealt with immediately. “Yesterboxing” tends to work better with personal than work emails.
Prioritize: Not all emails are created equal. Expanding on the “yesterbox” technique, thoughtfully select which emails can and can’t wait. If you use Gmail, try the Priority Inbox feature. For other email services, creating two folders — one for critical, can’t wait matters, the other for everything else.
Keep your emails under six sentences: Compose your emails as short and sweet as can be, preferably at six sentences or less. Nobody has the time or desire to read Russian novel-length missives. Brevity is the soul of wit. Your short emails will be appreciated by all…and you might get similar short emails in return, thus cutting down your inbox management time.
Jettison the junk: According to Alex Moore, CEO of San Francisco-based email productivity software company Baydin, deleting junk mail as it appears in your inbox consumes more time than most of us realize. Deleting one newsletter per day every day for one year will take more than 30 minutes, he says. Unsubscribing from junk email mailing lists will save you loads of time and annoyance.
Make a clean sweep: Is your inbox embarrassingly overstuffed? Do you have hundreds, maybe even thousands, of old emails clogging up your account? If so, it’s time to make a clean sweep. Any emails older than 30 days can be archived without further review. You can always search your archives later if you need to pull something up.
Take a break: There’s something to be said for setting up an email auto-responder, especially when you have important work to get done. Taking a one or two day “email vacation” will allow you to focus on that big project and let you take a breather from the constant flood of inbox messages.
Don’t be a slave to your inbox: There’s only so much you can do to tame the inbox beast without driving yourself mad. While “inbox zero” is an enviable state and a laudable goal, it doesn’t necessarily have to be your email endgame. Striving for “inbox zero” is something of a Sisyphean task. Focus instead on keeping your inbox under control, with a manageable number of emails at any given time.
Follow these simple steps and you’ll soon tame a wild beast you never thought could be subdued. You’ll be more productive and, ultimately, happier. And that combination often equals a better workday and more successful career in the long run.
Feature image source: Karen Arnold