Email Inbox Management Best Practices

Email Inbox Management

Email inboxes have been around for 50 years now. Hopefully, you don’t have 50 years’ worth of email cluttering up your inbox. But, we know that even a day’s worth can sometimes be overwhelming.

We’ve put together a list of 10 email inbox management best practices to help you de-stress and de-clutter your email life.

1. Schedule Checking Email  

The average worker spends a lot of time on emails each day:

  • 121 emails received
  • 40 emails sent
  • 15 times checking email

A University of California-Irvine study found that it takes us 20 minutes to get back on task after an email interruption. That’s 5 hours of your workday spent trying to get back your momentum.

Another study says checking your email constantly makes you more stressed.

Sure, some people get impatient if you don’t reply within 5 minutes, but let them stress about that rather than you. You have other things to do.

Schedule blocks of time to deal with email so that you can get other things done. Whether you tackle email once an hour or only three times a day is up to you. But, I promise you’re going to be less stressed and get more things done if you’re not checking email constantly.

2. Organize  

Organizing your email can help you manage what’s important and help you find things later. A few minutes of setting up an organization system for your inbox can save hours.

You can create labels, folders, subfolders, color-coding, and filters for specific categories based on a variety of factors:

  • What email address it came from
  • What email address it’s coming to
  • Subject
  • Priority
  • Project

You can also choose automatic filter actions to apply to certain types of emails:

  • Skip the inbox
  • Mark as read
  • Prioritize it with a star or important label
  • Block
  • Apply label or category
  • Forward
  • Delete
  • Never let it go to spam

Check your email settings to see what options are available to help you most.

3. It’s Okay to Delete  

Does it stress you out to see the number of unread emails you have in your inbox? Face it; you’re never going to read them. Delete them!

If you already have your email divided into categories, you can easily mass delete hundreds of emails at once.

Do you need to keep that email about the sale at your favorite clothing store from three months ago…three years ago? Purge those puppies!

4. Schedule Email Purges  

Don’t just delete now and let your inbox fill up again. Schedule regular email purges.

Put purges on your calendar like any other regularly-occurring task. Maybe you want to purge once a week or once a month. The frequency is really up to you.

5. Hit That Unsubscribe Button  

You gave someone your email address, and now they think you want to hear from them every day. Maybe you don’t.

If they’re nice enough to include an unsubscribe link at the bottom of their newsletter, use it. That’s so much easier than setting up a filter.

6. Only Handle It Once  

Robert C. Pozen, author of Extreme Productivity: Boost Your Results, Reduce Your Hours, suggests applying the Only Handle It Once (OHIO) method to your inbox. He observes that 80% of emails don’t need a reply.

How do you handle your email only once? Read it and then decide what to do with it. Here are some options:

  • Delete: Will you ever need this information again? No? Delete it.
  • Delegate: If it’s not your task to do, forward it to someone else and forget about it.
  • Respond: Respond and consider it done until you get another reply.
  • Defer: If you need more time or information, keep the email unread or label it to do later.
  • Do: Address the request in the email.
  • To-Do: Put the task requested on your to-do list.
  • File: Put the email in an appropriate folder to keep for future reference.

7. Put a Flag on It  

It’s not practical to assume you can handle every email the exact moment you receive it. Maybe it’s a large project, you need more information, or it’s related to results from a future event.

You can flag an email for future attention in several ways:

  • Mark it as unread (just don’t let it wrap to the next page, or you’ll forget it)
  • Put a star on it
  • Put it in a folder for future attention
  • Flag it to return to the top of your inbox at a specific time

You can also make a calendar reminder to return to unresolved emails at a specific time.

8. Keep Social Media Out of Your Inbox  

Most social media sites already offer you reminders on the site itself. If you already check those reminders regularly, why do you also need reminders in your inbox? You don’t.

Schedule a time to go through the settings of your social media accounts to remove email reminders. The fewer, the better.

9. Pre-Write Standard Responses  

If you find yourself writing and rewriting the same thing to different people over and over, consider making a file of standard responses to copy and paste into your emails. Of course, you want to personalize the message, but some information is pure fact.

You can keep a note file on your desktop with a variety of standard responses, or you can see if your email service offers a canned response add-on which will allow you to easily insert a pre-written response into any email.

10. Find Tools to Work For You  

Just like the canned response tool, there are many other browser tools and email-add-on tools available. If you have an email problem to solve, chances are that someone else has already written a program to solve it for you.

Choose a Few Solutions to Try Today  

Don’t work harder; work smarter. Email doesn’t have to be a source of stress. Using a few or all of these email inbox management best practice tips can help you manage your time and reduce stress related to your email inbox.

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