These strategies and tactics will help manage email inboxes and your angst, reducing your stress and helping you find more roses than thorns.
Email is a tool. It’s neither good nor bad. Still, we react to the size of our inbox, the names in the sent field, and the content within the emails we receive, letting it dictate our mood and even how we spend our day.
Wouldn’t it be great to actually get excited by your inbox? Is it too much to ask to look forward to checking your email? I believe it’s possible to appreciate email by weeding out the unwanted and designing your own inbox experience.
Design your inbox experience takes deliberate intention and action. In step one you focused on the good of email, reframing the negative association as well as taking responsibility for delivering negative emails.
Now it’s time for weeding out unwanted emails and managing your inbox experience to help you be more productive and flourish.
Step Two: Weeding and Pruning for optimal enjoyment.
Email is a bit like the landscaping in your front yard. It flourishes only when you take the time to remove the weeds and prune the bushes ensuring the right plants get the sun and water needed. If you let the weeds take over, eventually the important things will suffer. Soon it becomes an ugly mess and you just want to move and start over.
These strategies will help you remove the weeds and give the important emails the attention they require.
3 Strategies to Manage Your Inbox
Strategy One. Set Limits and Expectations.
Manage the impact of email on your productivity by setting limits to the frequency of email sessions.
First, limit the number of times you check your email during the day. The frequency will depend on your role and commitments. For most professionals reducing your email sessions to three per day will have positive impact on your productivity and mindset. For example check your email once in the morning; once mid-day; once at the end of the day.
Turn off your email notification! Don’t let it dictate when you check your email. Resist!
Second, manage the expectations of your regular contacts by letting them know of your process. Adding a sentence or two at the end of your email explaining your process will help.
Example: ‘I check email periodically throughout the day. I’ll respond to your email within 24 hours. If this is an urgent matter, please call…’
Finally, you can limit the time you spend responding to emails by writing concise responses of around 5 sentences. There will be exceptions, the key is to manage it to be only exceptions. You don’t want to be the cause of someone else’s stress of too many emails.
Strategy 2. Establish Processes and Systems.
Use rules, folders, filters, and tags to triage your inbox before you even open your email program.
It’s like having a virtual assistant living in your inbox. Create filters for all routine emails: newsletters, bill notifications, status updates, even jokes from family members. Set the filters or rules to move the email immediately into a folder or tag and out of the inbox.
As you establish these rules and filters, run them on your inbox to clear out all existing as well as future items. You’ll recognize these items as the ones you don’t read immediately, but save for when you ‘have time.’
Handling the filtered emails will depend upon your other productivity habits. Set aside time weekly for reading newsletters, project updates, and other non-time sensitive but important materials. If you find you never read certain emails, it’s time for the next strategy.
Strategy 3. Drastically reduce the source of email.
Be ruthless! Rip those weeds right out of the ground.
Remove the obvious and easy first. Do you really read that newsletter for the quote of the day? Do you really want updates from the chocolate of the month club when you are trying to lose weight. Use the unsubscribe button if you don’t ever read the emails.
More difficult to weed are the work related email weeds. Are you cc’d on emails often? Is if of value? Is there a better way to keep you informed? There is a CYA mentality with email. Maybe it’s time for you to start a movement.
Many professionals I work with have a difficult time delegating. Being copied on daily emails is one of the commonly overlooked symptoms. Is there anything in your inbox that you can remove yourself from? Do you really need to know about that meeting if you’re not attending? Be ruthless.
Each of these strategies will help move you from being managed by your inbox to using email as a tool to help you deliver your best work.
What if you have hundreds or thousands of emails currently in your inbox? We’ll cover that next: