As anyone who’s worked in a close-knit office environment can tell you, emails fast become a daily nightmare.
You get into the office, and before you’ve even had a chance to take a sip of your coffee, the inbox number reads: 100, and you’re faced with an ungodly amount of emails to sift through, sort, and reply to.
It’s enough to make anyone swear off email entirely.
Does this sound like you?
Well, the good news is that you’re not alone, and the even better news is that we’ve figured out some management tips that when implemented can help you reach inbox zero faster, and more effectively.
Email can be a major distraction over the course of a work day, and as we’ve covered in our article about the effects of interruption at work – an incoming email notification can throw you off your game, making you less productive, and driving you just a little bit crazy.
Here are our tips for managing your inbox:
Set aside time to check your emails - and turn off notifications
Emails can be an unnecessary distraction, especially if you’re tackling your inbox, panicked, every time you receive an ‘incoming mail’ notification.
The thing is, emails can wait.
If the issue was urgent enough to not wait, then trust that people would know to call, or direct message you.
Now that we’ve established that emails don’t have to be addressed immediately, let’s talk about setting some much needed boundaries.
Set aside time throughout the day to focus on your email inbox, marking ones for later response, and responding to those that require swift action.
You will need no more than 3 sessions throughout the day for proper email management. Each session can be up to a half hour long depending on how many actionable emails you tend to get in a day.
To make sure you stick to the allotted scheduled sessions, make sure you have calendar reminders for when each session begins, and when they end.
Also, to avoid the temptation to check your email outside of these scheduled times, make sure to turn off email notifications on your desktop and mobile device.
If you’re worried that urgent emails will go unnoticed using this method, it’s time to be clearer about your boundaries with your teammates, management, and clients.
Ask repeat offenders to communicate with you in different ways
Unfortunately a lot of the ‘urgent’ emails we receive throughout a work day are sent by the same handful of people.
Perhaps an anxious team manager, or an office newbie – or a seriously co-dependent client. Whoever it is, it’s time to let them know that you’re only checking emails periodically, and only actioning ones which are prioritised highly.
If you can talk face to face with repeat offenders, that will probably work best, so as not to be misunderstood.
Simply let people know that you keep your inbox checking to a minimum so that you avoid distraction and get more work done. Anyone who cares about productivity will understand.
Suggest that if they have an urgent matter to give you a call, or direct message on your chat app of choice. However, make sure they understand what ‘urgent’ really means on your end. Perhaps an issue that is urgent to a colleague isn’t really urgent in the grand scheme of things.
If you begin receiving annoyed email responses about your delays, you can try using an auto-responder (set up to send during your inbox-offline times) that lets the recipient know that you check your inbox at set times, and provide an alternative communication method for them to reach you more immediately should they need to.
Tag, categorise, and prioritise your emails
Most email clients these days allow for the categorisation, and prioritisation of emails in your inbox.
If you haven’t been using tags, filters, and priority flags so far – and find yourself drowning in a sea of miscellaneous emails every day – it’s time to get organised (for the sake of your sanity).
Let’s use Gmail as an example:
- Create ‘categories’ to categorise emails: Examples of categories which are useful include – a folder for automated emails (from a sales CRM for example), a folder for less urgent emails that require responses by the end of the week, a folder for emails that require problem solving and/or meetings, a folder for internal/HR announcements, etc.
- Create ‘filters’ to sort emails into categorical folders.
- Use the ‘star’ button to mark important/urgent emails that require immediate attention
Regardless of the email client you’re using, aim to understand its functionality enough so that you can sort your emails into categories, clear up space in your primary inbox, and somehow flag or filter emails according to how urgently they require a response.
Send repeat non-urgent emails straight to archive
As mentioned above in the Gmail categories example, many of us receive automated – or generally repeated – emails throughout the work day.
These may be sales notifications from the company CRM, or reminders of daily tasks/meetings. Regardless of the content, these emails don’t need responding to, and as such should not be taking up valuable attention by appearing in your primary inbox.
Most email clients allow you to filter emails of a kind for immediate archival.
This is a great filter to set up for automated, repeat emails, as they don’t need your attention or response on an ongoing basis, but need to exist somewhere in your email client for later referral.
Try to get your inbox to zero every day
This might be a daunting ask for you, especially if you’re one of the unlucky few who let their inbox number climb up into the triple (or even quadruple) digits.
But this is precisely why you need to reach inbox zero.
If you don’t leave your inbox at zero by the end of the day, it becomes near impossible to gather – from a glance of the inbox number – how many new emails you’ve received.
If you’re dealing with hundreds, if not thousands, of unread emails in your inbox, one or two are bound to slip through the cracks. Perhaps something is mistaken for an older email, or simply overlooked since it’s graduated to the second or third page.
Reaching inbox zero on the daily is not a difficult task once you’ve reached zero in the first place. Even if you receive, on average, 50 emails a day, by the following the above tips, it shouldn’t be so hard to sort them out, quickly skim through them, and mark them as read by the end of the day.
If you’ve got plenty of unread emails to sort through, set aside a full afternoon to go through them, categorise and sort them out, flag any that require a response or action, and bulk mark your emails as read to achieve that coveted ‘0’.
Believe us when we say that reaching inbox zero is a huge relief.
Consider alternative communication solutions if your team is email dependent.
If half of the emails you receive throughout your work day are communications from your colleagues, it may be time to migrate team talk to a more appropriate platform.
There are plenty of workflow management and/or chat applications designed for in-office communications, and a quick Google will reveal a much easier-to-use communication device for your team rather than chasing through dozens of separate emails all referring to the same task or project.
If your company already uses a workflow management system, or chat app, try to set new rules with your teammates about using the already existing communications platforms to discuss and problem solve.
Anything that can’t be said over chat or in a task’s comment section can be saved for face-to-face meetings – and should never end up in a horrifyingly long email thread.
Don’t let your inbox drive you mad.
Busily answering emails every second of every day may make you feel busy, but busy isn’t necessarily productive.
A cluttered, noisy inbox can fast become a liability when it comes to distraction versus focus, and as such needs to be managed much more effectively.
Hopefully our tips on managing your inbox helps to save you from the unnecessary time-suck of incessant ‘urgent!!!’ emails.