While technology is no doubt a great tool in our way of life today, managing your email can be a very time consuming thing!
We all have an email account or two and there are so many ways to make them work better for you. I have listed my top 12 tips for great inbox management below and as always, why not use those that will fit with how you live – and get your email a little more organised today!
Tip #1 – Don’t constantly check your emails
Interruptions are the biggest waste of time that anyone has. It stops your train of thought, is usually not necessary, and once finished it takes a long time to get back into the task you were interrupted from.
I am a complete advocate of avoiding interruptions as much as possible. I don’t answer the phone when I am working as I call back at a time more convenient (I always look at who’s calling to ensure it’s not for example my daughters nursery, as this would always be picked up!), I open the post while the kettle is boiling in the morning rather than as soon as it comes through the door, and if I need to be quick at the shops I try and time it so its less likely I will bump into people that I would otherwise be tempted to chat to for a while.
Its the same with email.
You know there could be something there that needs your attention, and its drawing you in! It is a great way to avoid your work, and it takes time to keep looking at it. There is also the risk that something may come along that takes you completely away from what you were in the middle of – and then where would you be!
My advice? Don’t check email all day. Check it in the morning when you arrive at work (or over your coffee when you are home) to ensure there is nothing urgent to be dealt with, then choose 2 more times during the day that fit in with your schedule that would be suitable for checking them. Great times are when you have come back from lunch and are not involved in anything as yet, and around 3/4pm when you are having a break – this gives you enough time to deal with anything that has come in – but gives you control back over your email and not the other way around.
Tip #2 – Delete whenever possible!
Any junk mail, jokes forwarded from friends and family, and sales emails can take so much time to read. And what do you actually get from this? Nothing.
If you can, get into a habit of scanning through the emails you have been sent, take a deep breath – and delete those that are obviously in this category before you’ve even read them. I guarantee you won’t miss anything! But you will have gained so much more time.
Tip #3 – Create a filing system
Just as you find it a lot easier and more manageable to retrieve an important paper document if it has been filed correctly, so too would you find electronic mail if you created a good filing system on your computer.
I find that if I keep y inbox only for emails that have come in and are as yet unread, or items that need me to action something – then I can always see where I am with things.
I ONLY file mail that I will really need to use again. I try and save email addresses to my address book so that I can delete the actual email, and only keep emails with important information on them.
Ask yourself if you really have the time to look at those emails you are saving to read later? Don’t have a MISC file as this will just get huge and you won’t be able to find anything anyway.
You may find that filing by sender, by topic, by piece of work/project etc… would work best for you – and it really doesn’t matter as long as you use it!
Tip #4 – Deal with the backlog
If you are like the majority of people, you are slowly drowning in email backlog. Not knowing whats important and whats not, and getting bogged down. This is especially true when on holiday for example and you get back and its on overload (see next point for how to deal with this)
My way of dealing with any backlog:-
Draw a line in the sand and create a BACKLOG file for all the emails you have collected that are swamping you. Clear your inbox and use that going forward for your emails – filing and deleting as required.
For the backlog, assume that the most recent ones are the best to start with, and when you do have time, methodically go through them deleting as much as possible. Soon you will have dealt with most of them and can get rid of that file too!
Most people will have emailed you again if it was urgent, and everything else was probably just junk, jokes or other time wasters – so you will feel simply liberated from the mess and can start to get in control!
Tip #5 – Set an out of office reply when you aren’t there
If someone doesn’t know you are away, then you may end up with several chasers in your inbox when you get back – all adding to the size of the pile.
It can also be used to set peoples expectations of when they will get a response. You can use this quite effectively when you are working to a deadline as well, for example:-
“I am sorry but I am out of the office until xxx .If this is an urgent matter please call xxxx on xxx who will be able to help. I will reply to your mail within 3 days of my return. Thank you”
“I am working on an urgent piece of work at present. I will get back to you within 3 days, but if the matter is urgent please call xxx on xxx who will be able to help”
Tip #6 – Read and action each email there and then
Try and action your email as soon as you read them. If you just read them and move on, you will end up having to read them again and therefore waste your time.
Delete anything you don’t need, download anything that you need to keep (documents etc…), and keep the last correspondence from each person as then you will know when you last spoke and about what.
For example – how many times has a friend sent their new telephone number, address, email, etc.. to you via an email – only for you to have to search for it when needed. If you simply transfer the new in information to where you keep it – THERE AND THEN – you will save yourself time. Then you can simply delete the mail.
If you need to get information from someone else in order to reply to the mail, then leave that in your inbox and send the other mail immediately. Never leave anything there that you could move or get rid of.
Tip #7 – Manage your sent items
Your sent box can build up so quickly, and takes space up on your files. I don’t advise not getting a copy of everything you send, as you may well need to refer back to it or clarify whether you put something in that email you just sent – BUT if you really need to keep a copy, then cc yourself in on it so it comes into your inbox and then you can file it away.
Get into a habit of deleting your trash and sent box on a weekly basis. Think of it as shredding!
Tip #8 – Unsubscribe
Really look at the emails you are getting and whether you actually want them anymore.
You may have signed up to be informed about new products from a shop, but now don’t want to know about them. Or you may have bought something online and now get a monthly newsletter. All these emails SHOULD have an unsubscribe button at the bottom. Clicking on this will take seconds but will save so much time over the coming months by not having to deal with excess mail you don’t want.
Also – if you are given the option to opt out of future emails from companies when you go on their site or get an email, then do so!
Tip #9 – Only use 1 email account
As with diaries, having more than one doesn’t help in the long run. You can double book more easily and it just causes confusion.
If you have email, just have one account that you use for all your important information and communications. That’s one email for any personal emails you get, and if you work for yourself etc… then include this as well (other work emails are better on a work email account for privacy reasons of course).
That way, you know where you are with it, and you don’t have to remember various passwords etc….
If you work from home, just use your filing systems to sort work from leisure things out – it really is easy and will make your life so much easier!
TIP – I do however recommend having another email account for when you sign up to newsletters / buy items etc… – as then this reduces the likelihood of your main email account being filled with all that junk email you end up getting
Tip #10 – Don’t print out everything
Only print what you absolutely need a hard copy of. This could be receipts for online purchases etc…
I know someone who prints off every email they have – simply to be able to read them and attach them to other related paperwork. As you can imagine, this isn’t only expensive in terms of paper and ink, but in terms of time.
Tip #11 – Purge
Periodically go through your files on your email account and check that you still need everything – if not, delete.
For example – I create a file for Christmas shopping – with any purchases, information emails, delivery details etc… in it. Once Christmas has come and gone and everyone is happy with their presents then I simply delete the entire file. It has served its purpose but is now redundant.
Tip #12 – What’s that email about?
How many times have you had to search for a specific email from a person where it has been titled something irrelevant like “RE:RE: Hello”. This does NOT help anyone. Although this method takes a little time – I have found it is more than made up for in time saved:-
Get into a habit of only saving emails that have a relevant title on them. I recommend sending the email to yourself again and changing the title so it shows whats in it. Using a standard format that works for you will be of extra benefit too i.e. “SENDER – TOPIC – DETAIL” for example “Chrissy – Organisemyhouse – details on email post”
Do you get overwhelmed by your email?
If so – I really hope that these tips have helped you get started on taming that inbox, once and for all!