From CEO’s to soccer moms, we’re all overwhelmed by the volume of emails received each day. Studies show that the average person checks a device approximately 150 times during waking hours. Still, it seems that we can never catch up. If you feel stressed just thinking about your inbox, here are some tips to tame the email beast.
- Create a digital filing system. Filing emails reduces visual noise and eliminates wasted time re-reading emails already opened. It also facilitates emptying your email box on a daily basis (getting to “in-box zero”).
- Search messages by name. Using the search box, type in the names of your boss, important colleagues, and frequent correspondents. This will help you categorize and file emails in a meaningful way. Most emails more than a week old are probably irrelevant and can be deleted.
- Don’t save emails as a visual cue to take action. Unless you have white space on the bottom of your computer screen, a saved email is just clutter.
- Touch each email only once. Avoid opening emails multiple times without responding. Make a decision about how it will be handled (delete or file) and move forward.
- Any time you receive an unwanted email, take a few seconds to unsubscribe so you never see it again.
If you still want to wave the white flag of defeat after following these tips, consider declaring email bankruptcy. In the same way you might file for financial bankruptcy when you can’t pay your bills, you declare email bankruptcy when you can’t respond to email overload. To do this, create a folder called “Email Bankruptcy as of Date.” Then select all of your messages and drag them into this folder. This enables you to wipe the email slate clean and start over with an empty inbox without feeling like you’ve lost anything important. To avoid falling into the same trap again, here are some additional tips to ensure you’re processing email as efficiently as possible.
- Empty your inbox on a daily basis. Respond to anything in the moment if it will take you a few minutes or less. If you can’t respond, add the item on your to-do list, and then file or delete the email.
- Batch process your email. Studies show that if you check email at pre-determined times during the day (morning, midday, end of day), instead of continuously throughout the day, you’ll spend less time processing email and reduce your stress levels.
- Use appropriate and meaningful subject lines. This makes it easier to find emails and sort by subjects. It also tells you the main point of the email at a glance. When you continue responding to an email chain, be sure to change the subject line if it no longer applies.
- Pick up the phone. Once an email has gone through two cycles of responses and an issue is still not resolved, use the phone.
- Avoid “Reply to All” Be kind to others by not copying them on emails that are not relevant to them. When others unnecessarily include you, ask to be taken off the chain.