Nothing feels much worse than starting your work day with an out-of-control inbox.
Your most productive time of day and highest energy level feel like they are being wasted by dealing with an endless barrage of emails — crafting the perfect responses, sifting through junk and keeping tabs on messages that need a follow-up. And for all your effort, you end up crossing not a single task off your to-do list.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. Email is supposed to facilitate communication and with your team and clients. It’s not a counter-productive tool designed to make you feel overwhelmed and cause you to lose sight of your daily task list. The good news is the path to an organized inbox is straightforward; it just takes know-how and application.
Here are five smart ways to help you tame your unruly inbox and save potentially hours every week.
1. Unclutter your inbox
Prioritize, group, sort and file message in your inbox. The better your filing system, the easier it will be to see emails that need your attention and to find specific ones when you need them.
Use labels and folders to organize your inbox. Consider creating parent labels for broad subjects, such as clients and project reports, and go further using sub-labels to file messages related to particular clients or projects. Just be sure that the tag created to mark the message accurately describes the content of the email and that it is search-friendly.
Many email providers including Outlook allow you to set up inbox rules or filters that will take preemptive action for you. Depending on your desired filter, the provider can automatically sort a received inbox message into a corresponding folder or archive the message. Apart from tagging, you can use filters to perform other tasks with your messages — such as delete it, move it immediately to a specific folder, or color code or prioritize the email based on the sender.
For example, for unimportant mails, you can set up a filter in which they go straight into a specific folder where you can review them later. This helps you block “noise” and minimizes email clutter.
2. Block to tackle
Instead of leaving your email open for the entire day, set specific times during your work hours to go through messages and act: respond, forward, delete, archive or save for later. This will help you get through messages faster and to prioritize the task at hand.
Unless you are involved in customer service, three different half-hour blocks a day will suffice to keep your daily emails in order and stay on top of your inbox. Allocated an additional 30 minutes once a week for an overhaul of your email to make sure your system is working for you.
As you already have assigned specific time blocks to check your messages, you may wish to consider turning off email notifications.
3. Use your calendar rather than your inbox
People often leave messages in their inbox to serve as reminders, such as to make a call, send a report or follow up with a client. But keeping emails you have already read can create chaos in your inbox.
Go for scheduling these to-dos in your calendar. Creating a calendar event will not only help you remember it but also makes it easier to update the reminder later in case the meeting or call gets rescheduled, which you are likely to miss in your overloaded inbox.
4. Go for canned responses
This can help you save a lot of time.
If you find yourself sending similar replies repeatedly, you can create easy-to-edit drop-in templates. Store these templates, responses in your drafts folder or use a plug-in tool to save them within your email account.
Whenever you need your pre-written reply, you can insert it into your email with a click, tweak if required and simply hit send — voila, it’s done.
5. Unsubscribe, unsubscribe, unsubscribe
Promotional emails clog your inbox every day, often burying important messages that need immediate attention.
Instead of wasting time deleting these advertisements and newsletters every day, unsubscribe from them. Use an inbox cleaning service such as Mailstrom and Swizzle to unsubscribe from a ton of unwanted marketing emails all at once.