There are loads of stats about how many hours a day people spend on emails. But regardless of the actual figure, the reality is that we are likely spending too much time! Email is a fantastic communication tool, however, used incorrectly it can be a real sap on your productivity.
Spending so much time reading and replying to emails can be a real burden on your time and is exhausting. A cluttered inbox filled with old, unread or unwanted emails can be overwhelming and distract you from the important things or lead to lost emails. Here are some tips to effectively manage your inbox. What a great feeling to head into the New Year at Inbox Zero and keep it that way?
Clear the backlog
There is no denying if you’ve got lots of emails in your inbox this process is going to take some time. But block out the time to do it as the effort is worth it.
Ok so you’re going to open up your inbox and do this:
- If you’ve got really old emails that haven’t been opened, just delete them!
- If you’re got mid ranging dated emails and not sure whether you should delete them, archive them for a short period of time and then set a reminder to go back and delete them.
- Now for the current ones, go through and open them all. Read the ones that are important and then either: delete, action or if you must keep them, file (more information on this in step 3).
- Unsubscribe to any newsletters, email subscriptions etc that you no longer find useful or helpful.
Set some folders & rules
Now don’t be tempted to create lots of folders just to store all the emails in! That is like planning to declutter your house but rather than sorting out the stuff first, you go to IKEA buy a load of storage boxes and shove it in there!
I suggest you create a minimal amount of folders:
Waiting on/Follow up
Client or Project files (that are current).
I number my folders so they appear in the right order in my mailbox & not alphabetical.
If you really need to, create a File/Reference folder. But be cautious using this. Do you really need to save that email? If you just need the attachment, download that and save it to an online filing system. And periodically check back into this folder and delete anything that is no longer relevant.
Set a time to check your email
So you’ve cleared the backlog and set up useful folders and rules. Now you want to keep on top of your inbox and stop it from consuming too much of your time.
I know it’s tempting to check emails. It’s a great source of procrastination! And we’re all wondering if there’s a juicy email in our inbox. So I encourage you to complete & write down this statement and put it somewhere prominent:
“I will check email (number) times a day for (number) minutes. Only check email at the time for that duration.”
As soon as the time is up, close your inbox and NO peeking throughout the day. Make sure to turn off email alerts on your computer and phone so you’re not distracted to check them. By being disciplined with how often and how long you check your email will help you effectivity manage your inbox.
Be intentional with the time in your inbox
Now during your email processing time make sure you go through every email and do the following after reading it:
- Delete it.
- Delegate it & save it to the Waiting on/Follow up folder only if you need a response. Delete it if not.
- If the action will take you 2 minutes or less to do it – do it straightaway.
- If the action will take more than 2 minutes, add the task to your to-do list, set a time due if necessary and move the email to the action folder. You could also use the snooze option if using Gmail as an extra reminder to action an email on a certain date. After the email task has been completed, make sure you delete it.
- File it only if you really need to.
Respond to emails with template responses
If you need to reply to emails with the same sort of information or need to send emails out with the same information, save yourself time and create template responses.
Take it one step further and make sure you have a FAQ page on your website so you can redirect commonly asked questions there via a template email.
Schedule & send out reminder emails
If you know you have to send out emails at a set time, e.g. to request information or a reminder, batch create them and then schedule them to be sent at the right time.
Disable categories (in Gmail)
If you use Gmail – which I highly recommend you do, my tip is to disable the categories e.g. social, promotions and have just one view. If you go into the Settings and then Inbox, uncheck all except Primary. I also hide them under the Labels option. I find this is a much simpler way to manage your inbox.
Remember the key to manage your inbox: Only use your inbox for what it’s for and not for what it’s not.
Your inbox is for sending and receiving email communications with people. It is not for storage, a dumping ground or a to-do list. It’s hard to manage your inbox if you are using it incorrectly. Add follow-up emails to your to-do list. Be sure to download and save attachments if they are useful into your Google Drive. And remember to delete the emails you no longer need!
Bonus Tip: Outsource it
One extra bonus way you can effectively manage your inbox, is by outsourcing the task to a Virtual Assistant. This is one of many simple tasks your could outsource. If you need some guidance about how to effectively outsource, download my guide with includes my a 4 step preparation list, by clicking here.