The amount of time the modern office worker spends sifting through e-mails is astounding. Workers can spend a significant portion of their workday trying to read and respond to e-mails, with people in management positions having to deal with hundreds or thousands of e-mails on a daily basis – research suggests that one fourth of the average workday is spent on emails alone, the second biggest time commitment next to an employees actual job specific duties. E-mail can be a great way to communicate with clients, coworkers, or employees, but it can also become a very real drain on a person’s time and energy. Here are three suggestions for staying in control of your inbox, as suggested in the article “4 Tips to Better Manage Your Email Inbox”:
#1 Timing is Everything
Effective time management is the best way to keep your inbox from overwhelming you. The first step in taking control of the time you spend on your e-mail is setting aside specific periods throughout the day to check e-mail. The amount of time you spend on each e-mail checking session and the frequency of these sessions will vary depending on your business style. Some people like to limit themselves to just two or three times a day, but some entrepreneurs find it more effective to check e-mail every hour or even every 15 minutes.
Whatever your limits are, consider really enforcing these for yourself by exiting out of your e-mail program for most of the day, shutting off alerts and beeps from incoming messages, or even turning off your cell phone for certain chunks of time. You can also create an automated response that lets people trying to contact you know exactly when you will be checking your e-mail during the day and offering them a phone number to call if their issue is urgent.
Not only is it important to schedule your e-mail checking times, but also to really be productive during those periods. This means dealing with e-mails immediately as they come into your inbox. Try to make fast decisions and take action instead of postponing issues until another day. If you cannot respond right at that moment at least send the person a message letting them know you’ve received to their e-mail and you are working on providing an answer. Then add the task to a to do list or calendar and set a deadline for yourself to follow up with the person.
#2 Isolate What is Important
Promotional e-mails or spam can really clutter an inbox. Every now and then take the time to unsubscribe from newsletters or advertisements that you do not look at. You can even simplify this process by searching your inbox for the word “unsubscribe” and then sorting through those search results to see what you can eliminate.
In addition to occasionally unsubscribing from mass e-mails, you should also scan through your e-mails as soon as you open your inbox to determine what is important out of that batch of new messages. Delete anything that is spam or unnecessary, scan and archived e-mails that do not require a response, and then you will be at a point where you can better evaluate the tasks you really need to tackle. Remember that if an e-mail is important it should not sit unread in your inbox for days at a time.
#3 Stay Organized
While it is good to consistently delete or archive e-mails, there are probably still many messages you will want to keep. It is a good idea to keep track of important communications with clients or fellow employees in case you need to refer back to them later to clarify an issue. Keep these old e-mails organized by taking advantage of labels, categories, and folders in your e-mail program. Group messages just like you would any other files so that you can easily locate E-mails about a specific topic or aspect of your job if necessary. You can put these folders into even broader categories labeled clients, finances, or projects. In addition to taking advantage of folders and subfolders, also be sure to mark your e-mails according to importance so that you can easily find high-priority messages when you need them.
If you have been feeling overwhelmed by the emails you deal with on a daily basis, consider stepping back to evaluate a better strategy for handling your correspondence. Setting a schedule for yourself, addressing things according to importance, and keeping your inbox organized might help you limit the amount of your workday spent on e-mail.