If you’re like most busy professionals, you undoubtedly have a lot of emails. This can range from a couple dozen to a couple hundred unread emails. Depending on how busy you are, you may get that many new emails each day. You may have even searched “how to manage email overload” in Google to see if you can find quick tips.
But that’s just the start.
Now you have to go through the process of sifting through emails. Is this one worthy of your time right now? Is it junk? Do you have a project that needs your immediate attention but this other email is overdue? Did you suddenly remember an email on page two or three from last week and now you need to catch up on that too? Or perhaps a previously flagged email has now reappeared and reminded you of something the “past you” thought the “future you” would be prepared for. It’s all too much.
We’ve all had those days where it seems like the emails never stop, particularly in our modern, tech-driven world where we’re expected to respond at the drop of a hat. No excuses.
Naturally, this idealistic hussle is essential to your success. If you’re on top of your game, that means more revenue, and maybe even one step closer to a promotion. However, the opposite is true too. If you fall behind, you may miss an email from an important client. You may miss an important email from your direct superior. You may forget about a crucial communication in your inbox. All because you thought your systems and habits around managing email were effective enough.
Rather than overwhelm yourself, take the initiative to learn and understand your inbox on a more fundamental level. By following this guide, you’ll find yourself not only getting back on track, but even more importantly, staying there too.
When you think about it, emails are a lot like Halloween candy. When you get home and empty everything onto the table, you immediately sort them out. Chocolate pieces together, fruity in their own section, suckers in their own pile. Your favorites may even get their own special place (with one or two getting eaten during the sorting process a-la I Love Lucy.) This methodology is precisely how you should approach your inbox too.
Emails have categories: there are action emails, reference-actionable, reference-archival, tracking, and trash emails. Let’s break them down to see how you can implement this into your own email practice, and get back to focusing on what really matters: proactively responding to your MVP communicators like your boss and your clients.
1. Action Emails
Action emails require immediate decision-making, or at least a response within a reasonable amount of time. Is this something you can respond to quickly and move on? Is this something that needs to be added to your to-do list? Is it an important project or question? If so, that’ll probably require immediate action. You know which ones these are when you see them, so don’t put it off. Just get it done right away and there’s one less thing to worry about.
Action emails are usually our favorite candies. There’s no time to wait! Gotta eat them now, or at least put them in a place where they’ll easily be found when the craving strikes.
2. Reference – Actionable
These emails are things you absolutely need to take action on, however, you have some time. Maybe there’s a deadline in three weeks and you’re focused on a different priority at the moment. You don’t want to forget about it, but you have a few other, more-pressing matters to get to right now. A great tool to help organize this is by creating an email folder or label and placing it there. You can call it whatever you want, as long as you don’t forget to check it!
These are the suckers and other individually wrapped candies you can grab whenever you want. Don’t wait too long, though, or they’ll get stale.
3. Reference – Archival
At a certain point you don’t need to take action on something. It’s done. But you may want to keep the conversation and/or attachments in a safe place for reference later. You’ll find these make up the majority of your emails. Leaving them in your inbox just creates unnecessary clutter, so archive them. You’ll have them forever and can go back to it as needed.
I like to think of these as chocolate pieces that you freeze, prolonging their shelf-life. You don’t plan on eating them necessarily, however, if you go searching for them, they are there patiently waiting. Plenty of chocolatey goodness for you to enjoy!
When you’ve given a task or project to someone and told them to complete it, that falls into the tracking category. You’re waiting for a response, or need to track how the email is progressing for one reason or another. A perfect example would be asking for a clarification on notes you took with a client. Or perhaps you asked an assistant to get you some files by Friday (but sooner if possible). You’ll definitely want to keep track of that.
Basically: you don’t have anything to do directly as of this moment, but you need to follow along to ensure you get the information you need to do your job.
Tracking emails are like the Twix candies that you will be sharing with a friend. You’ve given them the candy bar and you want to track which side they take and which side you’ll be getting back.
How many times have you opened an email only to realize it was junk? How many email subscriptions do you have that, by now, you just ignore because they’re sent so frequently? If you’re like everyone else, you have a ton of these floating around, clogging your inbox. If you don’t take time to delete these they’ll continue to add heft to your inbox, potentially burying that one email you needed to respond to by the end of the day. And now you’ve forgotten about that important email.
That risk is not worth it. If you don’t need it – get rid of it! It only takes a few seconds, and it’ll declutter your inbox, and therefore your mind, reducing the all-too-real phenomenon of decision fatigue and getting you one step closer to achieving Inbox Zen.
So do yourself a favor, and help yourself out. Delete those unnecessary emails, because these are the candies no one really likes and are just filler. No one wants candy corn or the butterscotch hard candies, but they’re there, and they’ll stay there until you throw them away.
Want More Help?
Sometimes you need a little help from someone on the outside who can help you be the best, most successful you that you can be. There’s nothing wrong with that. Fortunately I’ve designed the ARTT™ Email Productivity System for tackling email organization. By practicing and implementing the ARTT™ System, overwhelmed lawyers, doctors, and other service professionals such as yourself have found they work more efficiently and effectively. They spend less time working while simultaneously increasing their firm’s revenue. They’ve even found this success bleeds into their personal life. How would you like to find more time to do some of the other things you enjoy in life, or spend more time with your family? You really can have it all, it just starts with a few mindset adjustments.
Let me help you get there!
If you’re ready to take the step, this complimentary 45-minute webinar will help you learn how to feel in control of your inbox, be more responsive to important collaborators, and reduce your anxiety and stress. Tame the Email Beast….ARTTfully demonstrates time-saving techniques within Outlook primarily; however, the concept is platform-agnostic. It is about teaching your human habits connected to technology (whether Outlook, Gmail, or AOL Mail…ok, nobody uses AOL Mail anymore, right?).
Register for your favorite date today and I look forward to having you at the program.