If you can’t keep on top of your inbox and the ping of an email notification brings a tremor or dread, you aren’t alone.
You walk through the office door with a to-do list in your pocket and a swing in your step. Then you hit your desk, spot your bulging inbox and you’re bogged down, overwhelmed and distracted before the working day has even begun. If this sounds familiar then you could be suffering email overload – sending, receiving and processing more emails than you can actually handle.
We all know email has its uses: it’s fast, can be saved for later and can reach as many people as is needed in one go – all without leaving your device. But research has shown that the more emails you receive each day, the less you are likely to process effectively. In fact a US study has shown that for every 100 emails a person receives, they will respond to roughly five. With the volume of daily emails ever increasing, dealing with email overload is one of the biggest challenges today’s employees face.
But yoou don’t have to just learn to live with thousands of emails cluttering up your inbox. Here are some tips to set you on your way to email freedom and point your colleagues in the right direction too.
A Tidy Inbox Is A Tidy Mind.
Your inbox should not be your only file – yet all too often it is. Your email is an online filing cabinet so create folders specific to your roles: you might have action required, project folders, even a file to store information which may be needed “one day” (and once it’s filed neatly away, schedule in reading time for this folder once a week). Most email programmes allow you to set rules to filter emails from your boss or different colleagues into their own separate folders before they have a chance to take root in your inbox.
You may want to give some thought first into how you want to organise your folders and use them in the future, some forward planning will prevent you from duplicating folders or creating new ones creating inconsistency.
Keep To Schedule.
Don’t be tempted to check your email every few minutes and turn off notifications. Instead, schedule in specific times during the day to check your emails and stick to them. If you are heavily involved in a task, keep to the two-minute rule – only respond to emails that take less than two minutes to resolve. Save everything for later.
Be Subject Specific.
When you send an email make it clear in the subject header exactly what you want. If you need a response, label your header Response Required. If you are simply providing the recipient with information use the subject FYI. And be very clear about the subject matter – don’t label your emails “quick query” or “just a note”. Instead state “two questions regarding budget” or “annual report: please forward”.
Keep It Brief
Ensure emails you sent to others are brief and to the point. Do not be tempted to include lots of information (your recipient might not even finish reading it) and send separate emails for separate topics. If anyone sends you an email addressing several different issues, separate your replies into different emails. You will soon find others follow your lead and you will quickly be able to tackle each email (or at least know where to file it!).
Email Isn’t Everything
If the purpose of your message is the equivalent of a quick chat/quick response item, use an instant messaging system instead. This way, the recipient cannot be tempted to keep and file the information. Or instead of cluttering up others’ inboxes with a stream of emails, why not just call a short meeting and then send round a list of action points afterward. Not only does it keep those email boxes a few emails lighter but a quick meeting is, more often than not, just friendlier. Sometimes you can’t beat face to face.