10 tips to stop drowning in email

While email is considered quaint and old-fashioned for anyone under 21, for those working in offices it can still be far too prevalent.

How many email addresses do you have? Am guessing a work one, a personal one, one for the club on which you sit on the committee, an old Hotmail one you no longer remember the password for, and perhaps one from uni or college. How many times a day do you check your email? And how long afterwards does it take you to get back into whatever you were doing before? It’ll bet the answers are (1) too many (2) too often and (3) too long!

With each of us getting on average 121 emails a day it is really difficult to stay on top of them and not feel like you are drowning. As these emails arrive in dribs and drabs we can find ourselves with a Pavlov Dog type response, checking and replying, despite actually needing to be focused on something else. Our brains love the idea of ticking things off as achieved, so we tackle the easy things to do first, often ignoring the bigger more time consuming projects we are working on. We end up doing lots of small, insignificant things like reading and quickly answering an email, and the big important things get done poorly or rushed, rarely receiving the full focus they require.

So – some tips for staying focused and managing your emails much more inbox-picturesuccessfully.

  1. In the title of your outgoing emails write what someone will need to do with it. Is it for action, just for information or to sign something off? This directs them actually do what you need them to do and hopefully means people start to do the same for you – saving you time and focus.
  2. Unsubscribe to as much as you can. Googlemail even has an unsubscribe button now to use when it detects an email is coming from a newsletter database. If you don’t have this button then try unroll.me or spend one week each month unsubscribing to everything that comes through that you don’t want. It saves you lots of time in the long run.
  3. If you do want some newsletters or offers then set up a filter so they go to a separate folder which you can read during dead time like train journeys.
  4. Turn off your email alerts. Having a little message pop up in the corner of your screen every few minutes is really distracting.
  5. Set up a really good filing system so you know you can always find what you need – so you feel safe filing it and not leaving it in your inbox ‘just in case.’ Things in your inbox should be things you actually still need to action in some way.
  6. Create a separate email address for websites or apps which insist on you signing up before being allowed to read them. I’m sure that is why Hotmail is still going!
  7. Some of us work much better if we work early or late. Those who are larks may like to get on top of their work early, owls may be online catching up late at night. This can put pressure on others to respond which, if you are in a management or leadership role can be unfair. Outlook has the option of sending emails later (so they don’t send till work hours) and if you have Googlemail there is a great tool called Boomeranggmail.com which does the same.
  8. Most emails are now checked on a phone or blackberry so keep them short, succinct and clear about what you need. If someone is likely to get Repetitive Strain Injury (or Blackberry Thumb as I’ve also heard it called) scrolling through reams of text, then your message is likely to get ignored or deleted.
  9. Go through your sent emails every few weeks to file or delete things that have been sorted and see what you are still waiting for.
  10. If you have given a sigh of relief when you’ve emptied your inbox only to groan when 3 hours later it is full because everyone has replied) then send fewer emails yourself. Pick up the phone, use online messaging or head over to someone’s desk.


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