Email Management: Stay on top of your Inbox

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Here are some facts about email management today:

  1. Average business user spends 2+ hours a day dealing with email
  2. Seventy per cent of senior managers find the daily torrent of email stressful
  3. The average worker receives 48 to 75 emails per day, with many workers now receiving 200 to 300

(Source: news.com.au 14/4/2009)

By the very nature of my job I send and receive a large number of emails each day. I strive to keep my inbox empty. It is a great feeling to have a clean inbox, a feeling of peace and calm and satisfaction. I can highly recommend the following tips to everyone…

I wasn’t always like this — I had many emails in my inbox in the past. They would sit in there, sometimes unread, sometimes just waiting on an action, sometimes waiting to be filed, and others just waiting because I was procrastinating. I also had many folders for filing my email, so I could find them when I needed them. It would take me awhile to file sometimes, so I would put it off. Many people I know are the same way. Given the increasing number of emails each day, this is only going to get harder to manage.

Here are some simple steps to staying on top of your Inbox:

  1. Don’t check email first thing in the morning, or have it constantly on. Checking email first thing will get you stuck in email for awhile. Instead, do your most important thing for the day, or the thing you’ve been procrastinating on the most. Then check email. Better yet, do 2 or 3 things first. Also, if you are constantly checking email throughout the day, or it notifies you as soon as an email comes in, you will be constantly distracted and not able to focus on the task before you. I check mine every two hours unless I am expecting a particular email, but you might have different needs.
    1. The initial great distractor I found was the constant notification of a new email which I felt compelled to view and thus disrupting whatever other action I was in the middle of. To change these settings in Outlook select Tools > Options > Preferences > E-mail Options > Advanced E-mail Options then adjust according (I have disabled all my desktop alert settings)…
    2. If you wish to change the frequency your email is automatically sent/received, select Tools > Options > Mail Setup > Send/Receive Groups > then adjust according (mine set to every 2 hours)..
  2. When you check your email, dispose of each one, one at a time, right away. Make a decision on what needs to be done on each email.
    1. Is it junk or some forwarded email? Trash it immediately.
    2. Is it a long email that you just need to read for information? File it in a Read folder (or tag it Read and archive) or print it to read on the road (while waiting in line, for example).
    3. If the email requires action, make a note of the action on your to-do lists to do later. Also note to check the email for info if necessary. Then archive the email. You can easily find it later when you need to do that task.
    4. If you can respond to it in a minute or two, do so immediately. Don’t put it off. If you wait, you’ll end up with a backlog of emails to respond to, and you may never get around to it. I respond quickly, with a short note, and send it right away. That way I’m viewed as responsive and on top of things.
    5. If you need to follow up on the email later, or are waiting for a response, note it on a Waiting For list. Don’t just leave it in your inbox as a reminder.
  3. I have only one folder: Archive. When I respond to an email, or finish reading it if it doesn’t need response, or note it on my to-do list, I archive it. Simple as that. You could add a Read folder if you want. Other people have an Action folder or a Waiting For folder, but I find that that’s just an additional inbox that you have to constantly check. I have my to-do lists and my Waiting For list, and that’s good enough. So it’s as simple as pressing “Archive” on an email, and if I need to find it later, I can simply find it with either an Outlook search or by using Google Desktop. I’ve never had any problems with this system.

Email management is that easy: check email at regular periods, take action on each email right away (or note it on a list to do later) and archive.