It often starts small. We shrug off this email that we’ll get to later, simply bypass unimportant messages, or we put off digging into the meat of another daunting message.
The problem with this approach is the snowball effect. Snowballs always seem small at first, but after a lap or two around the yard, that snowball has become a snow bowling ball, or medicine ball. It gets to the point where you can’t even lift it anymore, seemingly in the blink of an eye.
You don’t want your email to get to the point where you need someone else to help you lift it. Therefore, you need an action plan to ensure you’re staying on top of your inbox. Here are 5 of the best ways to reduce email clutter and keep your inbox the size of a snowball too small to hurt even a small child.
1. Prioritize Your Communications
As a busy professional, you undoubtedly have a lot on your plate as it is. Therefore, make sure the important emails are prioritized and looked at first.
Sure, you may have a pressing email to get to…but is it more important than the email your boss just sent saying a deadline was moved to today and you need to push everything else to the side to get it done?
When you prioritize your emails the right way, you prevent email overload and get the important work done when you need to get it done. Remember: the emails that are priority to you are going to be different than the emails that are priority to someone else – only you know the best way to rank the importance of your emails.
2. Have Options for How You Communicate
Email is important, but are there alternatives you can use? Can you use Teams, GChat, or Slack for quick questions? Are you on a familiar level with whomever you’re communicating with that you might be able to text (interestingly, the USA is very behind with this approach and many professionals now use WhatsApp…but I digress)? Similarly, if there’s something that requires an extensive discussion or collaboration, you might want to send a Zoom invite or even just talk on the phone.
Maybe even have a Rule or a Plan for yourself of no more than 2 emails back-and-forth on a single subject before perhaps a phone call is necessary.
There are plenty of options for us, and by having alternatives we can ensure we’re following email etiquette best-practices. We’re here because we’re looking for ways to reduce our inbox clutter…but we also need to be mindful of doing the same for others. Lead by example.
3. Stop Pressing Subscribe
It’s far too tempting to sign up for an email newsletter, and sometimes we aren’t given any options but to provide an email if we want to download that ebook (or get our quiz results).
But over time those subscriptions really add up, making your inbox a haystack while we look for that needle of an email.
The solution is to just stop signing up. At minimum, after you get that PDF sent to your inbox, unsubscribe right away. You won’t hurt anyone’s feelings, and you’ll prevent inbox frustration later. At the bare minimum, use a personal email and just send that attachment to your work email.
Some professionals even have an email address only for subscription stuff, something like “SallyLovesStuff@gmail.com”. This can be a great technique as long as you feel confident that you do not need to manage that inbox and the only time you really look at it is to access a download, when applicable.
4. Check Email Less Frequently
I promise the world will not end if you don’t check your inbox every ten minutes. Most of the time you’ll hit refresh and nothing will change. You’ll see an email that isn’t important, or you’ll get distracted with something else (which could be bad news for your deadline…not to mention your mental health).
Instead, it’s recommended that you’re intentional about when you’re checking email. Being aware of your schedule for the day – what are your non-negotiables and where do you need to show up – before checking email. Otherwise, email will become your to-do list. While it may not be practical to set specific times throughout the day to check your inbox, you can reduce the constant email checking throughout the day by being crystal clear on what your priorities are and how/if an email contributes to the successful plan of your day. It’s also recommended to set a time limit when you do check email to ensure you didn’t allow an hour to waste away.
By doing the above, you’ll be able to focus on the task at hand without getting sidetracked, and you’ll stay productive.
5. Disable Notifications
Similarly, disable all your email notifications.
Have you ever felt “in the zone” working on something when an unexpected phone call, text message, or one of the many other push notifications take your focus? What happens? You check it, get lost for a few minutes – if you’re not careful it could be 10 or 20 minutes – then remember that you were doing something else. You return to that task and suddenly find it difficult to get back into the flow you had. The words aren’t coming as easily, or you’ve lost your spot and it takes you a while to recalibrate.
It’s frustrating, right?
Don’t do that to yourself anymore. Using timers can also help you focus on the task at hand and reduce the amount of time throughout the day that you’re anxiously checking your emails. Set the timer and say, “I’ll work on this project for 30-minutes. There won’t be an email that comes in within a 30-minute limit that will make or break my success today.”
As for notifications, well, it’s important to limit distractions. There’s no reason to have something disrupt you while you’re getting your work done. This practice can only result in significantly more productive days than not.
Remember, if it’s important, they’ll call. If it’s really important, they’ll leave a voicemail. If they need you, they will find a way to communicate with you.
With these five tips you’ll be on your way to becoming a reduce-email-clutter superstar and might even get a few of your colleagues to ask you how you stay so organized!
If you liked these tips but are hungry for more, I’ve got you covered. 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….ARTT™ 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.