For many of us, email is an extremely important means of communication in business. It's convenient and fast, and less intrusive than a phone call. And it allows us to do our jobs from almost anywhere.
However, when used improperly, email can be detrimental to productivity. Managers often receive hundreds of emails per day. Reading and responding to each message can become a drain on time and energy. An overflowing email inbox will not only frustrate you, it will prevent you from making the best use of your time and distract you from other commitments.
In this article, I highlight some strategies to better manage your email and keep the messages in your inbox to a minimum.
Set fixed email times
Don't leave your email program open all day. Alerts, beeps and notifications of any kind of incoming messages can interrupt your workflow and make you unfocused.
Instead, schedule specific blocks of time throughout the day to check your email. For example, you could mark your calendar to do this and set your availability to "busy."
Be bold and test new methods. For example, create an email response like this one quoted by Tim Ferriss in "The 4-Hour Work Week":
"Due to a heavy workload, I currently check and respond to emails twice a day at 12:00pm and 4:00pm. If you need urgent assistance (please make sure it is urgent) that cannot wait until 12:00pm or 4:00pm, please contact me by phone at 555-555-5555."
The amount of time it takes to check email and respond depends on how frequently you check messages and how many you typically receive. Some find it more effective to spend 10 minutes every hour on e-mail. Others prefer to check email only two or three times a day. This is up to you and, of course, the culture of the company.
Take immediate action
Quick decisions and immediate action will help you keep your email inbox under control. The point is not to delay until tomorrow what can be implemented immediately.
When you check your messages, scan the inbox for emails that can be deleted immediately like spam or promotional emails. Then select messages that don't require a response and delete or archive them. Once you've reduced the number of messages in your inbox, you'll be better able to judge which are the most critical.
Don't let important emails sit in your inbox for days. If you're not on vacation, respond within 48 hours. If you can't respond immediately, let the sender know you received the message and will be in touch shortly.
Organize with labels, folders and categories
Although much of your email can be deleted, you will most likely want to keep messages that relate to important aspects of your job. Correspondence between clients, colleagues and employees can help clarify any misunderstandings. Most email programs allow users to mark messages with specific labels or categories.
You can prioritize, group, sort and file messages to organize your inbox. The better your filing system, the easier it will be to find specific emails when you need them. Create parent categories for general topics.
Then use subcategories to file emails related to specific clients or projects. Before you file a message, make sure the subject line is search friendly. If it does not accurately describe the content of the email, edit the subject line before it is categorized and filed.
Also make use of automation programs such as Quick Steps on Outlook. I have always loved this tool and it brings so much more efficiency and productivity. Try it out!
Turn off unwanted emails
Newsletters and promotional emails can clutter your inbox and hide important messages. Therefore, be sure to clean up the clutter.
Unsubscribe from receiving messages from specific senders if you no longer want to receive their promotional emails or have time to read them. To make the unsubscribe process quick and painless, search your inbox for the term "unsubscribe" or "unsubscribe". Review the search results and determine whose emails you would continue to welcome and which mailings you would prefer to do without.
Manage additional mailboxes
How many inboxes do you manage? Many employees manage various other mailboxes, especially assistants. Approximately 75% of assistants manage two or more of their managers' inboxes in addition to their own.
The key to effectively managing another person's inbox is to discuss their expectations and keep reviewing them as priorities and the nature of business changes. The key here is to build routines, establish trust and also be allowed to delegate.
Regardless of the methods you choose to manage your inbox, the ultimate goal is to save time and ensure that all emails are handled only once, but efficiently.
And by the way, you should always be scrutinizing the use of your channels. When does it actually have to be email and when can you use collaboration tools or messenger systems.
Diana Brandl is an international speaker, writer, podcast host and former C-Suite EA. A Digital Native, she has worked in the start-up world, where she rediscovered her role as a management assistant with 17 years of professional experience within the New Work generation. She teaches first-hand what it means to work with Millennial Managers and how important storytelling is in sharpening a profile. Diana has spent her career supporting C-Level Executives within global corporations such as Sony, and now supports the role of the management assistant by speaking at international events and publishing various articles focusing on digital transformation, personal branding, strategic networking, mentoring, diversity and social media. Diana was a delegate in the 2018 World Administrators Summit in Frankfurt. In addition to her blog, The Socialista Project, she created The Future Assistant podcast in 2020.