Staying on top of your inbox can feel like a job in itself, with sifting through spam, responding to emails, and keeping track of messages that require follow-up. Sometimes you just need to deal with everyday problems tactically. And email is one of those things that comes up every day, but it doesn’t have to be a burden. Despite getting hundreds of emails a week, having a system in place can help you conquer even the most unruly inbox.
There are many methods for taming your inbox and gaining complete control over it. So, let’s focus on the tactical issue of mastering your email inbox with industry best practices.
AGGRESSIVE FILTERING AND UNSUBSCRIBING
Filter, filter, and filter again. Before processing what you have in your inbox, you want to really restrict what’s coming through in the first place. You need to set a high filter bar for anything worthy of arriving in your inbox.
Start off by cancelling any subscriptions that aren’t adding value to your life or your work. Unsubscribe frequently across the board whenever something drops below the hurdle you’ve set for your inbox. This reduces the number of emails you have to manage and keep track of.
CREATE SEPARATE FOLDERS AND AUTOMATION
Newsletters and non-urgent automated emails are important, but they aren’t urgent, and you don’t have to see them right away. Create separate folders and automation as soon as they arrive. Automation can be set up in email services, such as Gmail and Apple Mail, to automatically assign certain types of emails to a specifically designated folder.
You can say that any email containing the word “unsubscribe” is most likely an automated email, such as a newsletter or marketing email that you signed up for. Because you didn’t read it, it went directly to your ‘newsletter’ folder. Then, the next time you sit down to read, you’ll have a curated list of newsletters waiting for you in one folder, unopened, and you’ll be able to track what you’ve read and what you haven’t. The option to unsubscribe will be at the bottom of the email.
LIMIT EMAIL COMMUNICATION WHEN AND WHERE APPROPRIATE
Internal communication in the modern workplace is dominated by email and chat apps. In what circumstances should you send a message rather than an email?
Remove email from regular conversations with people with whom you are in constant contact. The goal is to reduce inbound email and increase the signal-to-noise ratio so that what comes in is actually valuable. You aren’t wading through a lot of nonsense to get to the important ones.
When used correctly, the advantages of real-time messaging compensate for the disadvantages of email, and vice versa. Use these best practices:
Use email to:
- Make a formal request
- Give important background information or context
- Inform everyone about important news
- Make several points at once
- Explain a complicated topic
- Collaborate with an external audience.
Use chat apps to:
- Make a request that is time-sensitive
- Request simple clarification
- Share mundane or amusing news
- Synchronous collaboration and problem-solving
- Ask for a quick update
- Collaborate with an internal audience.
TURN OFF ALL NOTIFICATIONS
Emails will continue to arrive in our inboxes at all hours of the day, so how do we manage them? First and foremost, turn off all notifications. By turning off email notifications, you won’t be triggered every time an email arrives, a light blinks, a message appears, or a sound dings. You don’t want to be constantly distracted and broken off from everything else you’re doing.
Set aside specific times to check your email inbox, ideally around one to two hours per day. Schedule this in your calendar ahead of time, say from 9–9:30am and 12–12:30pm, and then you have a window at the end of the day. Instead of each individual response disrupting everything else we’re doing and crashing our flow, batch responses together at group times.
ARCHIVE HISTORIC EMAILS
Email history is going to go in your archive. You don’t want to leave emails lingering and piling up in your inbox. You want to process it. And one method of processing is to send it to the archive once it has been dealt with, so that it is accessible but out of the way if needed.
Now, if you know you’ll never need it again, you might as well delete it. You can delete it as quickly as you can archive it. If there is any possibility that it might be useful in the future, it’s best to hit archive.
In most email applications, you can make it so that a reply automatically sends the email chain to the archive. So, merely replying will archive it automatically. Otherwise, there’s a keyboard shortcut in every email application to send it to archives. Use that, so when you process it and once you address each email, it’s cleared from your inbox.
READ IT ONCE, THEN ACT ON IT!
So, once we start processing emails, the rule is “read once, then act on it!” You don’t want to open it, read it, and then return to it later to read it again, or even worse, read it multiple times. If you read it but don’t act on it, you’ll have to catch up the next time you come back to it to stay up to date. The most inefficient way to process emails is to read them multiple times and go through the same thought process each time.
The rule is to eliminate any redundancy. So if you’re going to read an email, you’re going to act on it. If you see a headline or if it’s from a certain person, and you know you don’t have the time or interest in acting on it right now, then don’t open it and don’t read it. Save it until you do have the time and the willingness to act on it.
Once you’ve read it once, you need to take some kind of action on it. Strive very hard not to park it again. And that action can take one of several forms. First of all, some people need this message more than others.
THERE IS NO REQUIREMENT TO RESPOND TO EVERYTHING
There is no obligation to respond to solicitations or pitches. These can either be archived or deleted. If you’re not interested in following up, you can’t spend your time responding to everyone who contacts you with a proposal. You don’t know them; they’re just cold outreaches.
It’s up to you if it’s of interest. You don’t have to respond if it’s not of interest. You owe them nothing. They’re making a cold pitch. They’re used to it. However, they are imposing on your inbox and adding no value, so you have no reciprocal obligation. Get rid of any guilt or a sense that you owe them something.
MASTER THE ONE-TO-TWO SENTENCE RULE
A lot of people will send you stuff without providing sufficient information. Don’t be that person. So when you reach out to someone, whether you know them or not, provide the necessary information. Make it very clear, and at the top, make it very obvious what you’re reaching out about.
You can say everything you want to say in a couple of sentences. Most emails can be addressed in one or two sentences. You don’t have to elaborate and give every possible angle. There is no need to fully articulate and explain every thought unless asked to. Most people don’t want to wade through long emails.
You want to send short and succinct replies. If you can give them the answer they need within a few sentences, great. Quick answers are what everyone wants. It processes it, eliminates it, and then it can be moved to the archive.
CREATE TEMPLATES FOR RESPONSES AND TRACK FOLLOW-UPS IN YOUR CALENDAR
Creating a unique response for each email can be time-consuming. If you frequently send the same type of email, you may benefit from keeping some stock responses in your drafts that can be easily edited and reused.
Keep track of emails that need to be followed up on in your calendar. If you receive an email that requires both an immediate response and a follow-up action, move the email to a designated subfolder and add a reminder to your calendar that includes the folder location and the date when follow-up is required.
Take action. Set aside time to go through your inbox and get on top of it now that you know what you need to do to master your email inbox. Then, to gain complete control, maintain the discipline of creating folders, setting automation, designing your own time, and hitting inbox zero.
If you want to find out more about how to organise your email inbox, contact us today.