Email is a wonderful communication tool, but it can all too easily backlog your inbox or waste your precious work time, creating email overload. If you are becoming bogged down with too much email, or feel you spend every waking hour checking and responding to the constant flow to your inbox, you need email management. Here are 8 tips for managing your inbox wisely:
1. Check Personal Email Once or Twice a Day
It's really easy to fall into the trap of checking email constantly throughout the day. This can cripple your effectiveness and put a drain on your time when you are in the office. Set aside two periods of time to check email--perhaps as soon as you get in and just before you leave, and log out the rest of the time you are in your workspace.
2. Read and Answer Immediately
Once you sit down to read your emails, answer them immediately if at all possible. Most people read emails and then wait hours, or even days, before responding. Once you have read and responded, you can delete them, and this reduces your inbox clutter.
3. Keep it Short and Sweet
Keep your answers short and sweet. If you can say it in just a few words, do so. It's a waste of time to compose long, wordy emails and a waste of the recipient's time to read them.
4. Use Folders and Filters
Use the folder filing system in your email to archive emails relating to a particular subject, or create one that serves as your To-Do List. You can also customize your filters to download certain emails automatically to a folder, bypassing your inbox completely. This is a great feature for separating the junk or fun emails from your workload.
5. File, Delete, Search
If you have a tendency to use your inbox as an archive, using filters and folders will help. But you can also use the search function to find just about anything you've responded to or trashed. In this way, you can keep your inbox clean by filing, deleting and searching.
6. Ask Before You Type
Before you respond, ask yourself, "Is this the most effective way to answer this question?" The general rule of thumb is, if an email has bounced between senders more than five times, it's time to pick up the phone. Always ask yourself if you can accomplish the task more effectively by calling instead.
If you are inundated with product offers and coupons, news feeds or group emails, think about unsubscribing from lists. You can always visit the websites when you have downtime, and this seriously reduces the information overload in your inbox.
8. Get a Separate Email
If you just can't say no to lists, coupons or news feeds, consider getting another email address. Check this one once or twice a week. This will keep these items out of your work inbox while still keeping you in the loop.
Refuse to be a slave to your inbox! Use your email as an effective tool. These tips will start you on the right path to managing your information overload.
Sarah Baker is a documentary filmmaker and writer currently living in New Bern, NC. Her first book, Lucky Stars: Janet Gaynor and Charles Farrell, will be published December 2009. Read more about her.