They say there are two types of people in this world: People who have a glaring notification of 4,876 unread emails and those who stress out if just one red number pops up indicating a new message.
There’s no denying that email is an effective, heavily utilized, and oftentimes preferred form of communication in the business world.
You’re able to check and respond while on-the-go; you can exchange a message with a client residing in a different time zone without waking them up with a 4 a.m. phone call; you can set up meetings…the communication possibilities with email stretch as far as you take them.
But a cluttered inbox can be frustrating and can deter your productivity. Keep reading for ways to better manage your email, before you allow it to manage you.
If you scanned through your inbox this morning and saw an email you couldn’t respond to at that moment, but knew it was important, flag it.
Different email platforms have distinct ways of allowing you to do this, but there are many ways you can indicate that the message needs attention. A simple click of the red flag, a checkmark in the “mark as unread” section or a click of the star next to the subject line can help you visually remember the message’s importance.
Create folders or categories to save emails for future reference. This way, your actual inbox is cleared out without you having to go on a mass-deleting spree. As an example, you could create a folder for “client communications” and add subcategories for specific clients.
2. Be precise & send less.
One way to control your inbox is to start with your outbox. Before crafting an email, determine if it really needs to be sent. Would this be a quicker call or chat? When you start CC’ing other recipients, your inbox soon becomes clouded with responses and other conversations.
If sending an email is the best possible scenario (which it oftentimes is), make sure your writing is clean and concise. It’s like sending a text message; you don’t want to leave the content up for interpretation. By clearly explaining what it is you’re trying to communicate, you eliminate confusion and thus, the need for multiple follow-up emails.
3. Designate time.
This tip goes hand-in-hand with the other suggestions and is an easy, yet effective, step in getting your inbox under control: Determine a reasonable amount of time for you to spend going through all of your emails.
If notifications and alerts are a distraction, it may be a good idea to set aside time in the mornings and mid-afternoon to attend to those alerts. Close out your email platform in-between. Working on a specific assignment that you really need to finish before lunch? Mark your calendar as “busy” for a few hours so others will understand if you don’t get back to them instantaneously.
4. Evaluate & take action.
For those emails that you’ve flagged, evaluate which ones need more immediate attention. Even if you don’t have the time to write back a full response at the moment you read it, it’s nice to let people know that you’ve received their message and will get back to them with your answer a bit later if necessary.
Writing a simple “OK, got it” or “Thanks for your note; I’ll respond shortly” lets the sender know you received his message, and it eliminates the need for additional follow-up. Keep that email starred and set a deadline for yourself.
A good rule of thumb is to respond within at least 48 business hours of receiving the message. (Unless you’re away from the office and unable to check emails, in which case, you can utilize an ‘out of office’ message).
5. Filter or unsubscribe.
Remember that one time you were buying a gift for your friend and they asked for your email at the register? You liked that store, so you gave them your email address. Now, you receive a flood of promotional emails that you’re constantly deleting.
Look out for this magical word: Unsubscribe. This option is typically found at the bottom of the email message. In some instances, you can manage your preferences. So, if you’re not fully committed to pulling the plug, you can select which types or topics you’d like to receive.
Another way to differentiate promotional emails or newsletters is to set up a filter. This way, you can control the influx of messages and send certain addresses into a certain folder, essentially organizing them for you!
What tips do you have to reduce the stress caused by email?
Disclaimer: Please note that this is not all-inclusive. Our guidance is designed only to give general information on the issues actually covered. It is not intended to be a comprehensive summary of all laws which may be applicable to your situation, treat exhaustively the subjects covered, provide legal advice, or render a legal opinion. Consult your own legal advisor regarding the specific application of the information to your own plan.
Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in August 2015 and has been updated for freshness, accuracy, and comprehensiveness.