When it comes to email, we all have our preferences. Some people are incredibly organized to the point of perfection. Others let their email run the show, like an overgrown lawn that becomes too daunting to tackle. But everyone who uses email has to have some basic gardening skills or they risk always feeling stressed out when it comes to taming their inbox.
No matter where you fall on the above spectrum, if you find that you’re spending far too much time on emails, then you may not be following best practices.
I’ve compiled 8 time-saving tips for taming your inbox so you can take control over your day. Add these steps to your email routine and watch yourself achieve the long-sought-after “Inbox Zen” in no time.
1. Stop Chronically Checking Email Throughout Your Day
There’s no need to stress about checking your email every five minutes. We all get the same 168 hours a week and your time is just as important as the next person’s. So use your time wisely.
Instead of checking email anxiously every five minutes (yes, you probably check every five minutes), try working in larger batches of focused time…and then check email.
In my experience, most professionals will check email first thing when they “start work.” I won’t suggest otherwise (as long as you have your priorities lined up first.) From there, instead of allowing email to control your day, check email only periodically – after you’ve had an opportunity to invest some valuable time into deep work and what you need to accomplish to have a successful day.
The important thing is that you reduce the number of times you are intensely checking emails as though they are going to boil over. Fight the urge to check emails in-between unless there’s something really important you’re expecting.
2. Limit How Long You Spend Checking Email
Similarly, it’s not just about how frequently you check your email (and sticking to that schedule), but how long you take during each session to read through everything. You don’t want to waste half your day checking email because you’re in the habit of taking an hour to sift through everything.
What’s practical for you? If you’re checking email 4 times a day, maybe you can set aside 10 minutes in each check. If you’re only checking twice, maybe you can afford a half-hour. It’s recommended that you set a timer and be aware of how long you’re managing your inbox each time you are in the process of checking email. How are you using that 168 hours you get each week?
Again, consistency is key – both in your schedule, as well as sticking to a reasonable time limit.
3. Consciously Choose to Delete and Empty Trash
Junk mail permeates every inbox we have. It’s an inevitability. If we aren’t cognizant of our efforts, sooner than later those emails pile up. This creates longer inboxes than necessary, resulting in longer search times for specific emails. Imagine the anxiety from an inbox in the hundreds, thousands…
Get rid of junk emails. Delete emails that aren’t important. If you don’t think it’s something you’re going to need, chuck it in the waste bin. Declutter your inbox so your mind can focus on the task at hand. Not housekeeping.
On that note, ensure your Deleted Items and Trash are also emptied on a regular basis.
4. Take Advantage of Labels and Folders
Are you someone who stars and flags emails to remind you of something really important at some point in the future? Do you ever feel like it is your past self screaming at you and thinking you can achieve something that is just not possible now that the future is today? Yeah, well, thankfully we have Labels (Gmail) or Folders (Outlook).
Labels and folders are tools that can be very effective in keeping your finger on the pulse, and keeping your correspondence organized, without over-promising what the future you can handle.
With folders or labels, you can group emails that still require an action from the same company, or people working within the same project, into an action item workflow. Similarly, you can keep inactive emails organized together in a folder or label as well. This organizational tactic further reduces time searching for emails so you can get your job done quickly and efficiently.
5. Automatically File Incoming Emails
Do you have frequent interactions with the same people? Need to make sure you don’t ever miss an email from someone? Apply an auto-label filter or rule to their emails and compile them into the appropriate actionable workflow label or folder. Instead of applying the filters yourself, or manually doing this step, the email software will do that for you.
The key to this being successful is ensuring you still have control over the filters, especially since the goal is to prevent email overload. It may only take 5 seconds to apply the automation, but if you’re doing that for 100 emails a day, that’s 2,500 seconds or just under 42 minutes a week of just clicking a couple buttons. That doesn’t even include emails you get over the weekend to filter through on Monday.
Do yourself a favor, and make your life easier with auto-labels and tame that inbox!
6. Create Templates When Possible
How many emails have you sent with the exact same subject line? Greetings? Closing and signature?
When these things become a habit, it’s beyond time to create time-saving templates. Yes, you’ll need to take time to set them up, but if all you need to do is fill in a few key pieces of information and hit send, over time you’ll be saving hours and hours of time.
Every second is cumulative, so some pre-planning now will make you more efficient later.
7. When in Doubt, Archive
Ever been in email limbo? It’s where you’re not completely sure if an email is worthy of being saved or not and you don’t know what to do. When in doubt, archive it.
The archive is there precisely for this reason. It takes emails away from your cluttered inbox and puts them in a safe place if you ever need to go back and review an email. Just be sure that an email requiring an action does not end up in the archive or you’ll be second-guessing your plan and strategy.
Beyond all the organizational tips above, there’s one other main factor that can influence how well-organized your inbox is. If you have newsletters or other email subscriptions coming every week, or every day, that can quickly muddy your inbox.
Be honest with yourself. Are you still reading every email from that one blog you got that healthy recipe from? Do you need those tips from the graphic design guru that had a free ebook for you to download? Are any of these subscriptions able to be moved to a personal email?
This is the time to be judicious in your approach. You know what’s important and what isn’t. If you can go without it, do so. Or at least shift it to a different inbox so that it won’t interfere with the emails that really matter.
Now that you have 8 incredible time-saving tips for taming your inbox, make sure you apply them! One of our most important skills as professionals is time-management, and email management goes hand-in-hand with that skill set.
The more you practice applying labels, sticking to schedules, and discerning email importance, the easier it will become – just like any other skill. Soon these tips for saving you time will take less and less effort to implement, exponentially increasing your efficiency, and boosting your reputation.
Want even more tips for learning how to spend purposeful and intentional time with your inbox so that it serves you the way you need it to? Sign up for a free webinar to learn more about the ARTT™ Email Productivity course. I will personally introduce a new way of thinking about email, show you step-by-step how to conquer your inbox, and build a routine that causes less stress and allows you to get more done each day.