E-mail is one of the greatest innovations of the digital age. It has made life and work easier.
Those who worked in offices during the early 1990’s will tell you e-mail was the comet that rendered the typewriter and fax machine extinct.
E-mail made communication faster, easier, more convenient and cheaper.
However, the more you e-mail the more e-mails you receive. As your inbox gets packed with communication, you slowly find yourself checking your e-mail several times a day. In time, you might get overwhelmed by the amount of e-mail your inbox receives.
According to a survey by Statista, 44% of people from the United States and Canada check their e-mails 1 to 3 times a day.
Meanwhile, a report published by the Public Relations Institute of Australia (PRIA) showed that 71% of Australians check their e-mail first thing in the morning while 47% prefer to view their inbox before bedtime.
When you feel compelled to check your e-mail for no reason at all than to just “be sure”, then it is a habit that has become a crutch on your productivity.
As important as e-mail is, you should not let it control your day-to-day activities.
Here are 7 ways to effectively manage your e-mail inbox:
- Check Your E-mail At Scheduled Hours
It’s perfectly fine to check your e-mail multiple times per day. However, it could prove to be a distraction if you’re clicking through your inbox while you are in the middle of a task.
Multi-tasking can significantly lower your level of productivity. In addition, doctors have warned that checking your e-mail several times a day could increase stress levels.
A better approach would be to set aside specific hours of the day to check your e-mail. In fact, don’t even spend one hour checking your e-mail because it can diminish your productivity.
Here’s a science-backed approach on when you should check your e-mails:
Studies show that on average, people can maintain their focus for 90 to 120 minutes at a time. Afterward, the brain must be given 20 to 30 minutes to relax so it can be attain peak performance for the next task.
Using this cycle, you can allocate part of your rest period to clear out your inbox. Don’t use up the entire 30 minutes checking your e-mail. 10 minutes should be enough so you can still have 20 minutes to relax and recharge for your next task.
- Attend To Short E-mails Right Away
One of the fastest ways to clear out your inbox is to attend to the short e-mails right away.
David Allen, author of the book “Getting Things Done”, has come up with the “2-minute Rule” which recommends attending to e-mails that look like they won’t take two minutes to read.
According to Allen, it doesn’t matter if the e-mail is non-essential just get it over and done with. The objective is to get your inbox moving.
Longer e-mails can be stored or marked for reading at a later time or date. You can apply our first tip and read the longer e-mails during your 20 to 30 minute break time.
- Create Categories For Your E-mails
When you are in the process of filtering your e-mails, you will probably delete a large number of non-essential communications. However, you will come across e-mails that have been marked as “Urgent” or “Top Priority”.
These types of e-mails may have long and detailed content. Some may contain attachments or links that you have to open as references. It could take time to give priority e-mails a proper and thorough read. Rushing through it may result in the least helpful or even an improper response.
What you can do is to organize your e-mails by creating categories. From there, you can store each e-mail under the appropriate file name. You can create categories based on client name, projects, budgets or tasks.
For categories that involve broader scope of work, you can introduce sub-categories.
As an example, a digital marketing company can create categories under “Online Marketing” that includes “Social Media Marketing”, “SEO” and “Content Marketing”. Under “Social Media Marketing”, there can be sub-categories such as “Facebook”, “Twitter” and “Instagram”.
This type of filing system will make it easier and more convenient to store and retrieve e-mails whenever you need them.
- Promote Good E-mail Practices
Businesses love e-mail because it is the fastest and most efficient way to distribute communication within the organization or to a specific group of people in the company.
If you work with a team in your organization, chances are there will be someone who tends to write long, drawn-out e-mail.
Because there are no clear rules on how to write e-mails, you should create a guideline on good e-mail practices for your team.
Here are a few examples of provisions that you can use for your e-mail guideline:
- Keep your e-mails short; no more than 3 sentences per paragraph and no more than 2 paragraphs per e-mail.
- If you feel that a longer e-mail is warranted, just summarize the discussion points and we will schedule a meeting via phone or in person.
- Please write clearly; use proper grammar and correct spelling.
Effective communication is a must in every organization. E-mail is at the forefront of many channels. In order to get the most out of it, e-mails should be short, concise but accurate.
- Clear Out Non-Essential E-mail
Marketers know getting an e-mail to your inbox is like having one foot inside the door.
The chances of having their promotional content clicked on are much higher when it is delivered via e-mail than on any other form of organic marketing strategy.
This is why your inbox often gets flooded with advertising materials and newsletters.
Unless you have adjusted the settings of your webmail to filter out or categorize e-mails, you could find yourself wading through non-essential communication.
If you are not interested in the products or services being offered, unsubscribe from the newsletter right away. Delete as many promotional e-mails as you can on a daily basis.
- Send A Quick Message To Long E-mails
As you’re going through your inbox, you’re bound to come across e-mails that are quite lengthy. You decide to click on it and see that the sender spent a considerable amount of time composing it.
You realize that it may take some time to get through the content much less compose a well-thought out response especially if the e-mail is from an important person or a key associate.
However, you might do the person as well as yourself a disservice by not responding in a timely manner.
The best thing you can do is to send a short reply or a quick message to the sender.
Let’s assume you received a particularly long and comprehensive e-mail from a client named John Smith. An example of a quick response would be as follows:
Thank you for the e-mail.
I was able to run through it briefly but I would need more time to digest its content so I can give it the benefit of an effective response.
Kindly expect the courtesy of my response within 24 to 48 hours.
From here, you can either move the e-mail to its appropriate category or simply mark it as “Unread”.
- Outsource The Task To A Virtual Assistant
Filtering e-mail is generally considered a non-essential or non-core task. Yes, it is important but because going through an inbox may take time, checking e-mail could be counter-productive to your daily routine.
A smart option for you to consider is to outsource e-mail filtering and other administrative tasks to a Virtual Assistant.
Virtual assistants are professionals with the skills, competencies and experience to manage administrative tasks.
They work online from remote locations and are generally considered a low-cost alternative to hiring an office secretary or office assistant.
The Virtual Assistant or VA can clear out your inbox so you can go about the more important functions of your business. The VA will message you if there are e-mails that require an urgent response.
Otherwise, the VA will create an efficient filing system for your e-mails and send you a report on the status of all received communication.
E-mail is here to stay simply because it is the most effective way to communicate. As people and business become more dependent on mobile devices to get things done, e-mail will remain a big part of our daily routine.
However, it can be frustrating to open an inbox filled with unopened messages. The natural urge is to open all the e-mails and aim for a “zero inbox”.
Before you know it, you have lost a better part of the day filtering your inbox of all received communication.
In an eight-hour work schedule, you should spend more time on functions that increase productivity.
The key to managing your e-mail is to allocate time in a day to address them. And the truth is, with proper organization, you don’t need more than 30 minutes to effectively clear out your inbox.