Tech Matters: How to manage your inbox
There’s no avoiding that sinking feeling when you receive an email that clearly is a follow-up to one previously sent. Your first thought may be, “I must not have received the first email; perhaps it was left in the sender’s drafts.” But a quick search by sender name reveals you just missed the original. It happens to everyone, but it never reflects well on you, especially when the message is from your boss or is time sensitive. It’s time to eliminate that problem.
Compounding the problem is the rise in emails sent due to employees working remotely. Managers want to confirm progress on tasks, so emails, online meetings and Teams messages have become a flood, adding to the typical email deluge. Today’s workers receive on average more than 128 business emails every day, according to figures from data analyst firm Radicati. It’s easy to see how emails can pile up as meetings and instant messages demand a quick response. This cycle can lead to email fatigue, causing workers to feel frozen and overwhelmed. The need to efficiently manage your inbox has never been greater.
Here is a comprehensive plan to better manage your inbox with a strategy for dealing with emails and a broader strategy to reduce the number of emails you receive.
Set some time aside for the reorganization and cleanup of your inbox. Start by sorting your inbox by sender. If you’ve allowed personal emails such as shipping confirmations to be sent to your inbox, they’ll be easy to see and delete as a group. The same goes for any senders that are not relevant to your job. Make a note of these retailers and update your accounts to use an email to a personal account or to one set up for just this purpose. Unsubscribe from irrelevant sources. Now you should have an inbox with only emails that require your attention.
Next, set up three folders. Name the first one “Action,” which is for emails that you must take some kind of action. You’ll do most of your work out of this folder. The second one is “Read,” a place for newsletters, survey results and other items that you want to read but do not currently have the time to do it. The last folder will be called “Waiting.” This one is for emails that require someone else to do something before you can do your part or other factors out of your control that you must wait on. Every email left in your inbox should be filed in one of these folders.
The next time you open your inbox, you’ll take these steps in addition to filing your emails in the three folders. If an email is not relevant, delete it. If the email requires an action by you and you can do it in five minutes or less, do it right now. If it will take longer than five minutes, either send it to your Action folder or delegate it to someone else by forwarding it to that person with your request. For Outlook and Gmail emails that need action that same day, you can also “snooze” your emails to pop back to the top of your inbox at a specific time later in the day. If you find a free block of time before the snoozed email is scheduled to return, you will find your snoozed emails inside the Snoozed folder, which is automatically created by this mail provider and used to separate snoozed emails from the rest of your inbox. Send the rest of your emails to the appropriate folders. Think of your inbox as a container, not a place to work. Instead, work from your folders.
When you master this system, you’ll find your inbox to be manageable and you won’t lose important emails. Further, the control you gain over your inbox will be a powerful tool in fighting email fatigue. But what else can you do?
Limit sending emails to work hours and encourage your teammates to do the same. If you are writing emails after hours, instead of hitting send, schedule the message for a time that falls within the work schedule. Microsoft has a built-in tool in Outlook for companies that offers a pop-up prompt during out-of-office hours asking senders to consider emailing in the morning, then conveniently schedules send for the next morning. Ideally, management will institute a policy to support these limits.
You can also set a schedule to review email each day rather than checking it too frequently. Depending on your work style, you might want to check your inbox each hour for a few minutes or set aside 30 minutes twice a day. You’ll find turning off notifications will help prevent you from peeking in between your scheduled checks.
Leslie Meredith has been writing about technology for more than a decade. As a mom of four, value, usefulness, and online safety take priority. Have a question? Email Leslie at firstname.lastname@example.org.