The Secret to Prioritizing Emails and Reducing Inbox Stress

When things go from 0 to 100, it can get overwhelming fast. This is usually how it feels for many professionals each day when they get to their desk, open their work email, and the bliss of the morning is ruined by a cascade of bolded messages that seem never-ending.

I get it.

We as humans are wired to tackle one task at a time, but when we’re given several tasks (or there’s the impression of several), we can become stressed thinking about everything that needs to be done, and feeling like we need to get them all done right now.

But the secret is, you don’t need to get them all done right now.  In fact, you can’t. If you’ve read some of my other blogs, I’ve discussed a variety of techniques that help with avoiding these stressful situations – or at least navigating them a bit easier  but sometimes you just need a simple, straightforward guide that gives you exactly what you need.

Follow these steps, and your morning overwhelm will soon become morning routine, and prioritizing emails will be a breeze.

  1. Know Yourself, and Your Work

Suppose you have a client deliverable that is due in three days.  Meanwhile, a new project appears in your email.  While it seems logical that you’d prioritize the client work that is due in three days, you find yourself working on this new initiative.  Why?  

Well, if you’re not staying on top of your schedule, priorities, and deadlines, then when something new comes along, it’ll be significantly harder for you to evaluate what truly is the priority.

Let’s suppose this scenario occurs: the above-mentioned client deliverable is still due in three days, but your boss sends you an email saying they need a memo, also in 3 days. You now have two assignments that are both high priority, and they are both due in 3 days.  In this scenario, if the memo might only take 1 to 2 hours  to complete, and you haven’t yet started on the client project for the day, it may make sense to knock out the report right then and there, and no longer have it looming in the back of your mind.

That’s why it’s important to know your work and what your capabilities are, so you can shift things around if and when needed. Now, when a new email comes in, you can confidently know how much of a priority it is and whether or not it should take precedence over your other priorities and projects.

  1. Make Decisions

If everything is a priority, then nothing is a priority.  It is impossible to work on your biggest priority project if you’re not even sure what your biggest priority project is.  If you’re not confident in your decisions or you always second guess yourself, you’ll waste time contemplating what the right move is instead of taking action.

Every second counts, particularly when there’s a deadline coming up. So instead of making a list of the pros and cons (even a mental one) or instead of dipping your toes a little into each project, start practicing the art of making decisions  and sticking with them. 

The sooner you can learn to say “yes, project A is what I’m doing right now, and I’ll take care of project B when I’m done,” the sooner you can get your work completed and not wish you had extra time because you wasted it worrying about making the wrong decision.

Apply this same mindset to your emails too… know this is junk? Get rid of it and lessen your clutter. This email specifically from Client A? Put it with the rest in the folder/label dedicated to Client A. The less time you spend thinking about what you should do and the more time you spend taking action, the more free time you’ll have to do what needs to be done.

Moving emails to the appropriate place is the perfect segue to…

  1. Stay Organized

None of the above is possible if you aren’t organized. Without a proper to-do list, or a way of keeping track of your duties, it’ll be hard to gauge timeframes and make decisions regarding workflows.

I recommend that at the end of the day you take at most 10-15 minutes to write out the 3 things you want to accomplish (or must accomplish) tomorrow and a 4th, bonus task that if you get to it, you can reward yourself with something – maybe that’s an extra indulgent dessert, time to watch a TV show or movie you’ve been meaning to get to, or even just time to unwind on the couch and do absolutely nothing.

By staying organized and being on top of what your to-do list entails, you’ll be able to quickly make decisions regarding how to structure and restructure it, as well as what can get pushed to later if need be.

By following these three simple steps, you’ll find that overwhelming email stress will be a thing of the past!

What Next?

Like these tips but craving more?  I hear you – there’s tons for me to show you! That’s why I’m offering this complimentary 45-minute webinar that’ll help you learn how to feel in control of your inbox, be more responsive to important collaborators, and reduce your anxiety and stress. I’ll even answer your questions and give you a little taste of what comes next!

Just sign up for your preferred date, and I’ll see you there!

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