7 Ways to Manage Your Inbox

021114-managinginboxAre you overwhelmed by your inbox? Email has become such a vital method of communication that many of us feel tied to our inboxes at home and at work. You sit down to check email, and an hour later, you’re still there, mired in the messages that don’t seem to stop coming. We know you have other things to do with your day, so we’ve compiled seven easy tips for managing that overstuffed inbox.

1. Check Regularly, Not Constantly

Unless your business uses email as its main form of communication – instead of the phone, perhaps – you probably don’t need to be constantly checking your email. Instead, schedule it into your day. Some people are able to check first thing in the morning, before lunch, and before they go home at night. If that doesn’t work for the pace of your job, check more frequently, but schedule it. Maybe once an hour will work for you. Or every two hours. Find that works for you, and then turn off the setting that has your email program constantly checking for new messages. Some programs will let you set times for checking email, or you can manually check email using the “Send/Receive” button.

Bonus: You’ll extend the battery power on your mobile device when it is no longer constantly going out to check for new email!

2. Follow the “2-Minute” Rule

We read about the 2-Minute Rule over at Mind Tools, and we love it. If an email will take you two minutes or less to take care of, deal with it immediately so you can cross it off your list. “Dealing with it” can mean reading it, responding to it, or deleting it. Either way, you take care of the task. For more complicated emails, set them aside to deal with later – after you’ve cleaned out the quick tasks or at a set time later in the day. Your email program will let you flag or mark your messages – even if you just mark them as “unread” to that they’re highlighted for you.

3. File and Sort

Just about all email programs will let you sort your email into folders. Perhaps a simple filing system will work for you: Action Items, Waiting, Reference, Archives. Four clear folders that tell you what types of messages are in each. Or, maybe you need to sort by project, client, or other category. Find a system that works for you, and then use it.

Even better, desktop email applications (like Outlook, for example) will allow you to establish rules so that message sorting happens automatically. You can set rules to sort messages into folders based on many things, including sender or keywords in the subject line.

4. Keep it Short and Sweet

Email is a valuable method of communication, but if you find you need to type more than two paragraphs, email might not be the best way to send your message. A complicated email can lead to confusion and – you guessed it – more emails. Keep messages simple, concise, and straightforward. For more complicated and nuanced discussions, call or stop by the office of the person with whom you need to communicate.

When someone sends you an email and is expecting confirmation that you got it, a simple “Got it” or “Thanks” will do. Don’t ignore it – they’ll just have to email you again.

5. Send Less to Get Less

If you want to get less email, send less email. Related to tip No. 4, if it doesn’t need to be done in an email, don’t! Call or stop by if email is not the right medium for your message.

It’s also important to learn how to use the “To” and “Cc” fields properly. Most people use them interchangeably, which can lead to confusion about who needs to respond to and take care of the message and who needs to just treat it as an FYI. The “To” field is intended for the primary recipient or recipients. These are the people who need to respond to the message and act on it. The “Cc” field is for those who need to be aware of the message and in the loop on the discussion, but who do not need to take action. Using these address fields improperly can lead to more emails – if everyone thinks they have to respond, they just might. And, you might have to email those who need to respond but haven’t – creating more email for everyone. Learn how to use “To” and “Cc” the right way, and instruct your employees on how to do so as well.

6. Unsubscribe

If you subscribe to a number of mailing lists, blog posts, news feeds, etc. that you don’t read, unsubscribe from them. There’s no point getting these emails if you’re not reading them or finding them useful! If you find you’re deleting a message from a newsletter or mailing list several days in a row, it might be time to unsubscribe.

7. Turn It Off

When it’s time to really focus on your work, close your email program. Don’t just set it in the background where it can tempt you – turn it off. Worried you’ll miss someone who is trying to reach you? Use the autoreply feature to let people know that if they really need to reach you, they can call. You probably use this feature when you’re out of the office or on vacation, but it’s a useful tool to let people know you’re not sitting on your email right now because you’re working.

Got questions about setting up, managing, or securing your email? We’re help desk and security experts! Contact PNSolutions today.

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