You’re not alone if you think your work email has become an unruly beast. It’s far too easy in our modern world to get distracted, move from one task to another, and forget to follow through on what we set out to do originally – especially if there are plenty of other tasks on our to-do list. Like most things in life, having the right approach is paramount to successfully managing your email.
By following the guide below, you’ll find yourself having a much easier time knowing how to prioritize “so many emails” at work, and stay productive at the same time. Before you know it you’ll find yourself consistently living in the blissful Nirvana of Inbox Zen, and knowing how to prioritize your overwhelming work emails.
But it all starts with taking that first step toward changing your behaviors…
1. Make Decisions Quickly with the “Touch Once” Philosophy
When you open your inbox and see a large block of bolded new emails, it’s easy to get caught up in the whirlwind of stressful emotions. Suddenly you have a (seemingly) daunting task ahead of you on top of everything else you need to accomplish.
But the secret to getting started is to do a quick scan of your inbox. When you do this, you’ll immediately be able to pick out the easy buttons that you can touch once. The emails that are a quick delete, an easy file, or a rapid response. Moving those emails out of your inbox will help reduce the overwhelm you experience.
After the first purge, you can go back and do a second scan to see if there’s anything that needs to be accomplished sooner than later. You’ll have a much easier time discerning which ones are actually important right now, because there are less emails you actually need to click on and read.
Get the idea?
By breaking down your emails into smaller, more manageable chunks that are grouped by topic and/or importance, you’ll see that you actually don’t have to worry about as much as you thought.
2. Actually Use Your Folders (and Color Code Them)
The folders on the side bar are there for a reason. They help you declutter your inbox, and keep everything related in the same place.
After you decide which emails aren’t important, as well as after you read the ones that are, be sure to move those messages to the appropriate folder. By doing so, you’ll physically remove them from the main inbox. If you add colors to these folders as well (in Gmail), you’ll know based on your own color system which emails require immediate attention, and which can be read on a break or when you have some down time. The key to using Labels or Folders is to ensure you keep control and don’t mix emails that require an action or a decision with the emails that are completed and simply a reference point for you.
3. Realize When You Can Step Back
Sometimes you CC yourself on an email so you can keep track of it, then a recipient hits reply all. Other times you’re included on a thread as more of an “FYI” than as an indication you need to take action on it.
You know which ones are which. If you don’t need to reply, or if it doesn’t directly concern you, don’t get involved. Move that message to your archive if you don’t need to do anything else on it, or file it in an action folder for later to do’s when appropriate. Your time is important, and there’s no reason to sacrifice time for matters that aren’t relevant to you at this very moment.
Knowing when you’re needed and when you’re not is a skill. Start honing it now so you can more quickly make this distinction when an email comes in that lives in the gray area.
If you take just these three tips and start applying them to your everyday email habits, you’ll see near-instant success in prioritizing your work emails. Remember, you’re only one person. Set yourself up for success, and everything else will fall into place.
Wait! We’ve barely scratched the surface of email organization and management!
While the guide above is a great start, there’s so much more to show you. If you’re ready to learn how to fully tame the email beast, then this free 45-minute webinar will guide you through email best practices designed to make you more responsive to your most important collaborators, and reduce the anxiety associated with an unruly inbox. You’ll learn to ARTTfully Tame the Email Beast with demonstrations geared toward a time-saving process honed over years of trial-and-error, meaning you won’t make the same mistakes countless others have made.
Though this webinar focuses primarily on Outlook, the information is platform-neutral. ARTT™ is about redirecting our human habits connected to technology — whether that’s Outlook, Gmail, or even AOL Mail (does anyone still use AOL Mail?) — and harnessing your natural ability to be an organization superstar.