Take Control of Your E-Mail Inbox (And Your Life)|
Sometimes we spend so much time checking email that it would be nice if we could revert back to the days of snail mail when people only sent messages if it was important enough to warrant the time to write a letter, place a stamp on it and take it to a mail box. Since those days are far behind us, I sought out advice from mentors and time management gurus for effective, time-saving solutions on how to manage email and be more productive at work. Feeling overwhelmed by your never-ending inbox? Read on for helpful solutions.
Check Email on Your Own Schedule
At my first job at an advertising agency, I was bombarded with at least 500 incoming emails a day. On top of that, my coworkers loved and abused the red flag email notification which made it challenging to get projects done because I was constantly interrupted by incorrectly labeled “fire drills.” Drowning in emails, I turned to my mentor for advice on how to manage my inbox in an effective way so I could get work done without the frequent distractions.
The best advice I received from my mentor on managing email overload was to turn off email alerts and to allocate time in my day to check email. If someone really needs to get a hold of you within the next few hours, they will stop by your desk or call you. When we constantly react to things via email it is challenging to be proactive and get important things done. According to a NY Times article that highlighted a study done by Basex on worker productivity, “28% of a worker’s day is spent on interruptions by things that are not urgent or important, like unnecessary e-mail messages -and the time it takes to get back on track.” Do not let your inbox cause constant distractions and determine your priorities. Instead, set your priorities based on your team’s goals and the tasks that really need to be completed.
Complete a Major Task before Checking Email
In The Four Hour Workweek, Timothy Ferriss suggests focusing on one major task in the morning before checking your email. This allows you to focus on the task with a clear mindset and be productive without email distractions. You will already be able to check off a major thing on your to-do list before you check your email for the day!
Only Use One Folder
Inbox search technology is so advanced now that you can easily search for an email and find it in seconds. While the idea of only using one folder might make organizational junkies cringe, it really saves you time when you do not need to take the time to file and search for the correct inbox folder.
There are free add-ons, such as Xobni for Outlook and Smartr for Gmail, that allow you to easily locate an email, attachment, or contact information within seconds. Xobni and Smartr create an automatic address book for you that is located on the right side of your inbox. They are also integrated with Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn so you are always up to date with your contacts’ latest information when you search for their name or reach out to them.
When You Read Email Take Action
A popular time management tip is that if you can answer an email in less than two minutes, do it. If it takes longer, put it on your to-do list and prioritize the task based on your goals for the day. Once you have taken action, file or delete the email. Do not let the emails you have already read build up in your inbox.
Filter Out the Mail That Can Wait
Filters are a great way to manage emails that are not time sensitive and that can wait a few days, like social media notifications, retail coupons, and other emails from mass senders. Also, if you find yourself consistently deleting emails from the same senders without ever opening them, take the time to unsubscribe yourself from the mailing list so you will not have to continue deleting it every day.
For more time management and productivity tips and email management, check out the fantastic resources below:
- Getting Things Done by David Allen
- The Four Hour Workweek by Timothy Ferriss
- Life After College by Jenny Blake
Brittany Thomas is digital advertising professional, with a passion for emerging technology, media, continuous learning and travel. Her first professional role after graduating from the University of Michigan was at a large advertising agency in Chicago where she was responsible for researching and recommending the best digital media practices for a major CPG client. She currently resides in Chicago and works in advertising sales for a top online publisher.