Is your email inbox bursting at the seams? Overrun with nonsense,? Drowning in newsletters?
Here are a few easy tips to get your wayward email inbox whipped into shape.
The idea here is to reduce the number of emails in your inbox, so the important ones aren’t forgotten about.
Before you clear out your inbox (we’ll do that later), LOOK at the emails in there – they should fall into one of four categories:
EASY TO DEAL WITH EMAILS
Deal with them … right now. Sounds silly, but the rush you’ll get by just getting it down will be worth it
Alternatively, if you’d prefer and have the facility – convert the email to a task
- Unsubscribe from them. There should be an unsubscribe option at the bottom. It seems like a hassle now, but think – how many of these emails do you delete every week? Trust me – it’s worth it.
- If you are receiving unwanted emails from individuals simply ask to stop receiving them. A polite email explaining why (i.e. your job role has changed, your interests have changed, or you get the information from other sources etc.) should do the job. This also applies to chain email that at some point applied to you, but don’t now.
- You could also set up a filter to delete unwanted mailouts before they even enter your inbox BUT be warned: in the future you may want to resubscribe to this service, so you will need to remove the filter if so. Also, the more specific you cna be with your filter, the less chance of other emails being caught.
“NEED LATER” EMAILS
These re messages you don’t need to see now, but will need later.
The answer here is to FILTER. If you use a free-mail service, like GMail or Hotmail, or Outlook, make use of the filtering / archiving process which skips the inbox and moves the emails directly into a folder.
- newsletters from fashion stores / vouchers etc. can be hidden away until your next shopping trip
- work documents that I will need for a future task but don’t need reviewing now
- job alerts – I file these away, and set myself a calendar reminder to check that folder every couple of days so I don’t miss anything important
PESKY EMAILS (aka All the rest …)
These emails will annoy the hell out of you, and make you feel bad about yourself until you can deal with them. Often these depend on other people/situations. My solution is to remove it from your inbox but set up a reminder to deal with it, when you know you’ll be able to.
In order to do this – think – what’s stopping you from answering it immediately?
- You need to consider your response / it’s not urgent and you’re busy right now – Sometimes you’re just not in the mood, right? Sometimes it’s just not a priority. Sometimes that difficult email needs an extra cup of coffee / lunchbreak or an entire day before you feel up to dealing with it. First, be honest – are you just procrastinating, or does this really need some thought? If so, allocate yourself a time of the day/week to deal with emails like this. End of the day perhaps? Start of the day – before things get to hectic? Set yourself a timed reminder, or a morning todo list, archive the email and forget about it until then.
- Are you waiting for a specific date? – either archive and set yourself an calendar reminder, or – if it’s an email that needs sending – does your email system have a DELAY email function? (you could also give ifttt.com a go – this allows you to schedule emails to a specific person through your Google Calendar – very geeky and very clever). There are other email schedulers available – these seem to allow a small number of free emails (eg 10 a month) but for larger amounts you will need to pay.
- Are you waiting for an email from someone else? – if so, archive the email currently in your inbox – the email from them will remind you to deal with this
- Do you need to have a phone call/conversation/meeting with someone else first? – do you know when this will be? If so, you could either set yourself a calendar reminder for the date you will find out the information, or a reminder for the deadline when it has to be dealt with.
A few more things you can do …
- Turn off social network notifications – if you are on Twitter / Facebook all day anyway (or have an app on your smartphone) do you really need an email alert as well? If you’re like me you are signed up to a lot of accounts, so the notifications are endless!! Also think – what’s the point of getting a Facebook alert if you’re at work and can’t do anything about it? Turn them off, save yourself the frustration!
- Preview setting on mobile email readers – I miss important emails because I review them on my mobile, but can’t deal with them. Now I use the “PREVIEW 5 lines” function (IPhone) so I can get an idea of what the email is about, without having to open it (which marks it as read). It will then remain in your inbox unread, until you get to office/home etc.
- Similarly, review your the “mark as read” setting on your desktop email – change this from “mark as read as soon as open” to something that means you have really processed with it. It means emails will stay as unread until dealt with.
- Reduce the time you spend receiving emails. This takes self-control and is definitely not suited to every role. Decide how often you will check your email (2/3 times a day) and set an autoresponder (out of office reply) explaining this fact. Also spell out WHEN you will be replying to the email, if one is required. This will cut down on email “ping pong” – when an email turns into an entire conversation as senders will be a LOT more concise and it won’t turn into a conversation.
- Mailing Lists – consider changing the settings of these. Do you really need to receive ever update of an email list – or would a daily / weekly email be enough?
NOW ITS TIME TO BE RUTHLESS
Go through your emails and decide – are they:
- dealt with – then delete
- contain important information – archive or remove info (ie contact details) and delete
- pending – process as above … archive and setting dated/timed calender reminders
Also – depending on your workflow, I would say bulk archiving emails before a certain date is a good move. Think about it, they’ve probably been resolved now anyway.
NEED MORE ROOM?
All of this archiving can put a strain on your email account size – even giant accounts like Gmail have a limit, and corporate accounts are very limiting when it comes to how much you can archive Consider an archiving / filing service like Evernote / Springpad (useful list here).
These are cloud based and will store your files, emails etc. so you can retrieve them from in different ways (i.e. computer, smart phone, tablet etc.).
I use Evernote, and as it comes with an email address, I now forward a lot of emails to this automatically, and also manually when they arrive. (using Gmail filters) but there are others available (both free and paid for) – find the one that suits you the best!