For the rest of you, here are the ways to manage your email like an expert:
- Set a time frame: This is very important; it is easy to lose track of time while checking your mail. In between the deleting and replying, you simply lose track of time and find later that 4 hours has slipped by. You could probably set 3 slots of 20-30 minutes each, during different times of the day, to check your email. Use reminders or other time tracking tools to keep track of your time.
- Use Gmail: If you are using a different web based email then waste no time in switching to Gmail. It will make you much more productive. You could also switch to Gmail without changing your original email address, which is probably preferred. Here is an article that explains how to do it.
I advocate the use of Gmail, not as a die-hard Gmail fan, but as someone who has tried out various email clients in the past 5 years and found that nothing else compares. It has some amazing features including filters and keyboard shortcuts and if you use a desktop client like Outlook or Thunderbird, then Gmail also provides for IMAP access which makes life easier.
- Prioritize using Labels / Folders: It’s important to differentiate the important mails from the unimportant ones. If you use Gmail, then you can set filters which will do the job automatically by applying labels or re-routing the incoming mail. In all the other email clients, there are folders which you can use to prioritize your email as well. You can make folders named “friends”, “Reply today”, etc. and when you open your inbox, immediately start shifting mails to their respective folders.
- Be Precise: Be precise and to the point when answering emails. You could even skip ‘Hello’ and ‘Regards’ if you want; I don’t think anyone will mind it. Learn to use one-liners effectively. If you use web-based email and Firefox as your browser, then there are some add-ons like Paste Email which helps you to paste repetitive texts in forms or emails with one or two clicks.
- Delete Ruthlessly: You can easily conclude from the subject line of an email if it’s worth reading. If it isn’t, delete it without thinking twice. If you slack, thinking that you probably might read it later, then believe me, that email will remain there as unread until you finally decide to do away with it. Act upon the email the first time you see it by either responding immediately, deleting it, or setting it as a task to accomplish at a specific time.
- Don’t leave it for the next day: Try and finish replying to the emails and clearing your inbox within the time frame you decided. I know, it’s not always possible, especially if you get more than 100 emails a day, but if the emails go pending then the next day it becomes much more difficult for you to sift through your inbox. Think of your inbox like a snowball, the more it rolls, the larger it gets.Tip for Outlook users from Jay: If you receive an email that you want to address tomorrow, right click on it and drag it to your task pad. You can then assign a due date and a priority level. Heck, you can even assign it to someone else on your team. If you constantly do that, you’ll have a good task list to work from and a clean inbox. This will completely remove the constant inbox browsing that you’re doing now; not only is that habit unproductive but it’s downright frustrating. If it’s something that will take a long time or if it’s a critical task, drag it to your calendar instead and actually create an appointment with yourself to dedicate time to it.
- Replace the source: Inspite of trying out the aforementioned 6 steps, if you still find it difficult to manage your email, then check the source of emails and try to replace it with something more useful. For example, if you get tons of emails from the contact form in your website, then identify the major concern which visitors have and then publish something on your website which will help those visitors, thereby helping to reduce your incoming email flow.
Email is a great tool if you learn how to manage it. Unfortunately most people are managed by their email. Get it under control by implementing some of these tips. If you have other keen ideas, let us know in the comments.