8 Tips for Successfully Managing Your Inbox
Most days it feels like our email manages us instead of the other way around. Constant connectivity and opportunities to work remotely tie us to our inboxes like never before. Since email remains our primary mode of office communication, getting a handle on our inboxes can feel like we’re getting a handle on the majority of our working world. So what do the most successful women do differently to manage email?
1. Know That Email Is Not Your Job
Inbox management starts with a mental reframing of how we think about work. Unless you’re one of the brilliant gals actually designing gmail or our outlook inboxes, email is not actually your job. Email is just one — amongst many — tools for communicating, connecting, scheduling, and organizing. Starting with thinking about it as a tool instead of a tether gets you in the right frame of mind to let email work for you.
2. Schedule Email Processing Times
Do you leave your email open on your desktop all day? Give it a week where you change that habit and set distinct times to process and review emails. For example, give yourself from 9-10am and 3-4pm to be in your email box and process, file, and review. This batch processing works better because you can be distraction-free and truly focus on crafting meaningful responses where necessary.
If it gives you the hives to think of missing something that sits in your email for a few hours, consider styling up an out of office response. “I am working on a major project this week and will only be reviewing emails between 9-10 and 3-4. Please feel free to call or text if your note requires a more urgent response.” You’ll be surprised when almost no one takes you up on that.
3. Practice the One Touch Rule
We grab our phones and give a scroll through our emails every morning over coffee on the coach. Read a subject. Open it. Close it. Open it again. Think about a response. Close it again and decide we’ll wait until we get to the office. (Just me?) When I committed to the one touch rule, my email chaos decreased dramatically. Decide that you won’t open an email until you’re ready to respond, file, or process it.
4. Hit Unsubscribe
We get too many emails. Period. The newsletter we signed up for that we read once. The distro list we’ve somehow been added to by an external vendor. Commit to one week of “unsubscribe” effort and any time a note hits your inbox that you know you won’t read, take the extra steps of hunting down its sender and getting off the list. You’ll be amazed by how much clutter is removed from just this marginal effort.
5. Build Your Own Templates
Whether it’s a weekly update to your boss, on boarding instructions for a new hire, or whatever response you dish out to a team member’s FAQ, templates are your answer. Any time you are recreating text in multiple emails there are ways to go about it faster. Save draft templates of duplicate notes you often send. Use signature blocks to include conference call instructions or meeting room directions. In Outlook, features like “quick parts” can capture entire blocks of text that you regularly insert into notes.
6. Stop Making Emails Your To-Do List
I’m wildly guilty of letting my inbox become my to-do list, and while that might feel like a short-term time saver, it actually costs us a lot of brain power to process emails as a to-do list. This is because the email that’s triggering a task for you very rarely has broken out the exact action steps you need to take. Instead of making email a vague reference to a “to-do,” mentally process that email only one time, breaking it into actionable steps and using your inbox’s task list to actually write out what you are responsible for and by when.
7. Use All Your Available Email Features
Filters, flags, color coding by sender, and folders with rules are all pretty common basics that you’ll want to master to get a handle on your inbox. If you’re not yet maximizing these sorting functions, spend some time learning exactly how they work for your respective email system.
If you’re already working at this level, check out other less-used functions. For example, did you know Outlook has a “clean up” feature? If you’ve been out of your inbox for a while, this is a great little bot that runs through and deletes duplicate emails such as responses on a thread. Don’t worry about losing attachments or missing unique text. It will catch both of those things!
8. Pick Other Tech Tools
Once we stop thinking about email as our only communication tool, it’s grip on our work day loosens up! There are so many useful platforms, apps, and new ways to connect with our colleagues. Slack and Asana are great project management and communication hubs. BlogIn is a good place to share internal news and post meeting readouts and Zoom gives you a quick way to host a video chat on the go.
Ask yourself: if you were creating this process or project from the ground up without email how would you communicate with colleagues? Brainstorm with your team on new options and see what tools your workplace security protocols allow.