It happens to all of us and no matter how hard we try to stop it, they just keep coming. You sit at your desk, intent on completing a certain number of tasks done before lunch. But, then you notice the pop-ups on your screen. As soon as you see them, you click on them. FOMO? Perhaps. Instant gratification? Who knows! What you do know is that what you planned to accomplish before lunch, has not even been started. Suddenly, you are going down the inbox rabbit hole.
Emails can derail the best laid plans. I know that during the course of my day, I may get upwards of 100 emails a day. Some people get more or less but regardless of the amount, you must be able to managed them so that they do not manage you. In order to be successful during your work day, I want to share my top five tips for managing your inbox for success.
Now, where I work and anywhere I have worked, I have always used Microsoft Outlook. One of the great features about using Outlook is its ability to allow you to create rules. These rules send designated emails by Sender, Subject or Keyword directly into a specified folder. This is truly important because many times in business, you may end up on many list serves. Although these include important industry information, they are not crucial to your day to day. Do not let these types of emails clog up your inbox. Move them right along into a specified folder. Then, when you want or need to reference that newsletter or publication, it is there waiting for you.
Yes- I know that you can search all of your folders for keywords but bear with me. The main reason for these folders: see Tip #1. These folders will allow you to create rules so that certain emails will bypass your inbox altogether. This can be very helpful in maintaining control over your inbox. Now, what I am not saying is go overboard with your folders. You do not want to create a folder for every person that sends you an email. That would be a waste of time and completely counterproductive.
Breaking these folders down to what makes sense to you will help you manage your inbox and also cut the time a search takes when looking for information. The method I use for creating folders is based on my interaction with the person or business sending. Anyone reporting to me is placed in one folder while anyone I report to is in another. I create folders by project- large projects only. Another folder is called ‘Publications’. This is where I place any automated emails or newsletters. Company generated reports are automated to go to ‘Reports’. Original huh? I also have a folder for years. This corrals everything so that my searches are quicker. I keep about 3 months of emails in my inbox because those usually include projects I am working on and it just makes it handy.
Use your out of office
That’s right. Use it when you are on vacation but also use it even when you are not on vacation! Having your email constantly up and active, leads to the rabbit hole I spoke about earlier. Once you see the pop up, how many times do you immediately click on it? This habit not only interrupts what you are currently working on but it also interrupts your train of thought, your work flow, and ultimately will lead to you being non productive. So put an out of office on your email at regularly scheduled times every day.
A simple message like “Thank you for the email. I am currently in the office working on a project. I will be checking and addressing emails during the following times:_________. If this is an emergency, I may be reached at the following extension:__________.” This way, the person sending knows that you have received the email and you will be working on the request during the allocated times. Therefore, they won’t expect an immediate answer. Additionally, if there is an emergency, you are able to be reached. You will find this practice allows you to concentrate on the tasks at hand without interruption. Additionally, as people start to type an email to you and see your out of office, they may rethink the email. This will help decrease the volume as people subconsciously set a higher bar for actually sending that email.
Yes. Just go ahead and hit that button. When we live in such an information rich society, it can easily happen that we get overwhelmed with too many electronic publications. Every time we turn around there is another list serve that send us emails as frequent as every day. Now, this is not to say unsubscribe from all newsletters or list serves. However, be very cognizant of the value they bring to your daily operations. Ask yourself a few key questions.
- Does this publication have up to date information relevant to the current field I am in?
- if the answer is no, rethink your subscription
- Does this publication add value to my current business by way of best practices or trends?
- if the answer is no because the information is dated and not validated practice, rethink your subscription
- Is this publication filled with sales flyers and/or sponsored by one particular company?
- if this answer is yes and it is just a way for that company to tout more of their products only, rethink your subscription
Ultimately, you have to be able to discern the value that these types of emails bring to your day to day career. Once you isolate the subscriptions you want to keep, create that folder from tip #2. Once that folder is created, send your subscription emails there so that your inbox does not get cluttered. Here, the information will remain accessible to you.
Dump the zero inbox unicorn
Yep. Mic drop. I know this does go against a lot of people’s advice. I will admit when this advice came out, I tried it. I really did. However, (insert voice of French narrator from SpongeBob) 2 hours later, after clicking, reading, moving, answering, and stressing, I managed to get through about 20 emails. Well, maybe that’s an exaggeration but seriously I didn’t get far and I lost 2 hours of my life chasing that unicorn. That’s when I decided to just create folders, unsubscribe and use the other tips I am writing about. The stress of a zero inbox is immense. Nobody talks about that part. I mean when I wake up in the morning, there are times I already have 15 emails. That does not set me up for a successful start to the day. Ditch that unicorn and save yourself some stress.
There are so many ways to manage your inbox and these are just a few that I employ on a regular basis to help me. These help me stay on track so that I am more productive and can balance my work day better. If you use Outlook, I hope you give these a try. What are some of your tricks in regards to emails? Share them in the comments below..