8 ideas to tame your inbox

Screenshot of Gmail on the web.
What's in your inbox?

I was talking to a client about the problem of managing the ever-increasing volume of email. We were both conscious that not replying to emails was bad form but struggled to know what to do.

So, I asked a few people and read some articles. A quick Google search gave 122 million results. Ideas ranged from trivial to some really elaborate and expensive management apps. Below are some ideas I have tried or I felt might be useful for most people. I use Gmail but these principles can be applied generally.

1. Replace internal emails with conversations

I admit this is easier said than done. The principle here is to ask the people in your organisation who email to talk to you instead. A quick phone call or deskside conversation can replace a string of emails.

2. Empower your people

Do you need to be in the loop? What if people were empowered to make more decisions that are currently referred to you. Ask them to keep you informed and allow them to come to you with concerns but leave them to do their job.

3. Use a collaboration app

Look for apps that work as a private social media style (think Facebook) conversation threads. If you and your staff set up topics that allow questions, answers and comments you will have a record of your conversations including any decisions made along the way. Some such as Slack and Asana have limited free versions and most have iPhone and Android apps.

4. Set a time and a time limit to read and reply to emails

If you haven't read Dave Allen's Getting Things Done I recommend it. When it comes to email, set aside a time of day to read emails. If you can reply immediately do so (2-minute rule). If it needs to be done at a particular time then schedule it. If it needs to be done in a particular place then file it under the place. If its part of a larger project then put it in the project folder. If it is for reference, then file it where it can be found.

5. Triage

The principle here is to sort emails into useful subcategories and isolate your most important emails. Getting things done is a type of triage.

If you use Gmail, emails can be sorted under tabs that automatically sort emails into primary, social, promotions, updates and forum. Moving an email to one of these tabs will result in future emails appearing under this tab. Marking an email as important (star) will mark future emails from this source as important.

Outlook and other clients have similar features and include the ability to create rules to classify emails.

7. Unsubscribe

Do you really need to read emails from subscription services? If you don't usually read a subscription email or feel it is a distraction, just unsubscribe.

8. Delete

Emails age. Most email clients have an archive facility or your organisation will have email retention and archive policy that keeps deleted emails. Simply delete or archive old emails. Really, if you have not answered a couple of weeks old email are you really likely to soon? If someone needs an answer they will follow up anyway.

If the email contains vital information about a project then move it to a project folder. Only rarely will you need to refer to the original emails and entire folders can be deleted as they age.

So there you have it. Some ideas to try. Please comment below and tell me what you found useful.

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