If you’re like most working professionals today, you’re inundated with emails. The average worker receives hundreds of emails a day, and many report spending hours sifting through messages. How are we expected to get any work done when we’re responding and reacting to emails all day? The tide of emails in the workplace is becoming a tsunami we can’t avoid.
We dread trudging through these emails, with important messages often buried under piles of inevitable junk. Then there are the ten to twenty replies to trivial messages that could’ve been avoided with a phone call or instant messaging. We all hate the two-word “thank you’ messages that need sorted, terrified of missing that one email that actually did need to be read.
So how should we be handling email overload? Many try unsubscribing from as many mailing lists as they possibly can, leaving only what is actually valuable (like favorite daily news or deals from your favorite shops!). Some offices have policies regarding skipping email altogether if the message is urgent, instead favoring a phone call or text message.
Here are some strategies to incorporate to take control of your emails and get your inbox back:
Use a scheduler to coordinate meetings
If you need to coordinate a meeting, use a scheduler, or if you have an assistant, let them handle it. Calendar booking will leave no doubts about the time and location of the meeting and helps you avoid another needless email chain.
Try setting email office hours
Setting designated times to respond to email will keep the task from taking over your day. Once you stick to a schedule, it’ll become a habit and common knowledge that you respond to emails in a certain time frame. This may not work in every setting, but give it a try and see if it works for you.
Try the Open-til-Done System
This strategy requires some organization but works for many people. Go through your messages as quickly as possible, flagging messages that need responses. If your day is interrupted by meetings, you can always come back to your flagged emails as soon as you’re back at your desk.
Use a Folder System
Some individuals have success with a folder system. Try using a folder for “action required” emails, and another for “immediate emails”. By sorting your emails, you can respond to the most important messages first. Be careful to avoid letting these folders get out of control.
Use a Priority System
Utilizing this system, quickly review your messages and then sort them by priority (High, Medium, Low, whatever works for you). High priority tasks are those that need to be dealt with that day, but Medium priority tasks could potentially be delayed. Set aside some time on your calendar to tackle the medium to low tasks.
Taking control of your inbox is a challenge. Some of these strategies may not work for you, or some combination of strategies might be a winning system. Use the tools available to you such as calendars, flags, and folders to organize to the best of your ability. Delegation is your friend and not every email is an emergency. If you’re a problem-solver, resist the temptation to treat every email as a problem you personally have to handle. Test and stay in learning mode to make your inbox work for you!