Email Overload – Take control of your inbox

How many emails are in your inbox right now? Yes, it’s probably 80% spam, but that leaves 20% that’s not. How many missed opportunities are in there? How many irate people are waiting for your reply?

Every day you wait it gets worse. If you have 400 email messages, do the math – if you spend only one minute reading / answering each email, that would take almost 7 hours! And when you add in the fact that you probably already read some of them but didn’t respond/address it then, you’re doubling your email time. The trick is to deal with emails regularly and completely and immediately.

You need a system.

Clear your in-box of all messages, daily. The goal is an empty email inbox at the end of each day. The inbox is for temporary storage only.

Use the touch it onceĀ strategy as much as possible. Try to respond immediately when you read an email for the first time so you’re not wasting time rereading the message.

If you can’t deal with the email right away, send a quick response telling the sender that you received their email and will take care of tomorrow (or whenever). Then set yourself a reminder on your todo list or flag it. That way they won’t bug you until your new deadline and you can focus on to the next task/email.

Ways to clear out your inbox:

  • When you check your email, first delete all spam so that all you have left are things you need to attend to.
  • Use subfolders to move emails to that you have responded to or need to keep. Some folders I use: Orders (for receipts of online orders), Client stuff, personal, look later, good jokes, website.

Outlook tips:

  • keep your Mail Folders sidebar open at all times and drag and drop messages into the appropriate folder.
  • Move an open message to a subfolder directly without closing it – add “move to folder” to your top menu in the message screen.
  • Move emails with appointments/events to your (Outlook) calendar (yes, you can drag and drop) or to your (Outlook) Task Pad.
  • Microsoft’s online course to dealing with email overload, including setting priorities and organizing emails: http://office.microsoft.com/training/training.aspx?AssetID=RC100647451033
  • Set up automatic message rules that deliver emails with certain words in the subject or to/from a certain email address directly to subfolders.
  • Keep your spam filters current and train the Junk Mail feature. But do check your junk folder daily to be sure nothing important ended up there.
  • If you are more of a paper person, print out the email right away and put in the file that relates to that. Then move the email to a subfolder.
  • Forward it. If you can’t deal with it right away or ever, forward it to someone who can.
  • If you can’t do it, respond to the sender that you don’t think you can.
  • Considering using the PHONE to respond to an email – cuts down on the back and forth of emails, and can take care of the issue right then and there so you can delete/file the email out of your inbox. This is especially helpful when you have an email conversation going into its fourth or fifth round and you’re not getting anywhere.

Keep things from coming in at all:

  • Unsubscribe. If you are receiving regular newsletter emails from a subscription, determine whether you are really reading/using those emails. If you want to remain on the list, but the subject is low priority, set up a subfolder and have all incoming messages from that source automatically routed using rules for you to read through later (in your “spare time”).
  • Keep business and personal email accounts separate and only “send/receive” for one account at a time. Have an email account for business only and a separate email address for personal correspondence. That way you can let the personal emails sit on the server until you’re home or off. You can even set up a separate email address for low priority stuff like newsletters.

Schedule time or set a reminder to go through and respond to emails you’ve moved to subfolders.

Use “follow up” flags to remind you to deal with an email.

Color code messages. You can either do this manually when you read it for the first time, or set up a rule (“automatic formatting” in Outlook) to automatically set a certain color depending on who it’s from or what it’s about. Then, when you scan your inbox, all greens will pop out at you even if they’re not next to each other. I like to set certain senders as red if I need to be sure to respond immediately.

SORT your email messaged differently occasionally. I usually keep my inbox sorted by date, but every so often when messages start piling up I sort by sender which reveals extra messages I either missed or forgot to move to a subfolder. then I can delete/move a bunch at a time. If you use follow up flags or categories, sort that way too.

Learn the keyboard shortcuts for your email program. For example, Control R is resply in Outlook. I also set up hotkeys for my categories (now if I can only remember them – note to self – tape shortcut and hotkey list to monitor).

In conclusion – once you take control of your inbox, you will feel better, be more productive, stop missing opportunities, and prove yourself to be a reliable person to work with.

Now, I need to get back to clearing out my inbox. Only 1,234 messages to go.

More resources:

Youtube has lots of training videos about using Outlook and organizing emails.

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