These strategies and tactics will help manage the problem of an overflowing email inbox focusing your attention and energy on what really matters: your essential work.
So far you’ve changed how you look at email (step one: focus on the good) then in step two you started to design your inbox experience by setting expectations, boundaries and rules.
If you chose the ruthless route, you may have started to remove yourself from unwanted email lists and even pulled out of a project. Well done!
Those actions have set the stage for managing your inbox going forward. But what about the mess that’s already made it through the gate?
Below are three bonus strategies to help you clean out your existing backlog of emails allowing you to let go of the stress and start focusing on your essential work.
Strategies for Overflowing Email Inboxes
1. Declare email bankruptcy.
Essentially this is a complete flush of your existing emails. Archive them all or move them to a folder marked ‘bankrupt.’ Do not look back.
Warning: This is not for the faint of heart but it is freeing if you can handle it.
The theory here is that if it’s important enough, the sender will follow-up.
2. Take an email in-service day.
Remember when you were in school, the teachers would have in-service days but you would have to day off? Well this is the teacher’s in-service day for email. Take a day to focus only on cleaning your inbox.
First set up your filtering processes and systems (see step two).
Second, go through the remaining emails in your inbox one by one.
For each email you must take one of these four actions:
1. File it in a folder.
Do this for emails that do not need any response or action taken, but rather are for reference only. You want to keep it for some reason but it’s not part of the filtering rules you’ve set up in step two.
2. Take an action.
If the email requires a response and you can write and send that response in less than 5-10 minutes – do it. Respond to as many emails as possible immediately.
If the action will take longer, create an item in your to-do list. If you need to research something, collaborate with someone, or go out of your email inbox to take the action – put it on your to-do list.
You may even want to create a tag or folder labeled ‘To-do’ in order to collect these actions and process them in blocks of time after your email cleanup project.
For now, you are muscling your way through your inbox, no time for side roads.
3. Delegate it to someone else.
Use this with caution. Delegating appropriately will help everyone keep their email inbox in check. If you are ultimately responsible for the action, put the email in a ‘follow-up’ folder after delegating to make sure it’s closed.
4. Delete it.
Not important enough to keep? No action required? Delete it and move on. Advertisements and spam are easy to identify. The difficult decision comes when it’s an email from someone at work. Maybe it’s a reminder for a meeting, or an announcement that doesn’t impact you. Delete emails that do not directly impact you.
Managing your inbox won’t solve all of your productivity problems, but it will give you extra time to spend where it counts more…and you decide where to spend it.