We all know the feeling: we get to work, turn on our computer, open up Outlook and… despair as we watch the emails flood in. It seems that much of our working life is now governed by our inbox – but it certainly does not have to be this way. Here are my top five tips for tackling your email inbox.
1. Don’t let email control your schedule
Email is the number one source of interruption for many of us. We may be working on an important project, but as soon as that email notification pops up in the corner, our attention is immediately diverted. Even if we do not read that email right there and then, our mind is now wandering about another project or task. By turning off email notifications, you’ll be able to work on your projects on your own schedule and devote 100% of your attention to the task at hand.
Another way I like to control my schedule is by delaying opening my inbox when I arrive at work in the morning by one hour. Instead, I use that hour to do a task I do not enjoy or that is quite difficult. After that hour, I open my inbox and go through my emails, already feeling very positive about my work day!
2. Set up sorting rules
Many email services will let you set up rules to automatically sort all incoming emails. Doing this will help rid your inbox of junk you never need to open or move an email for it to be opened at a later date. For example, set up a rule diverting all automated emails from software and tools you use to a ‘Subscriptions’ folder.
If you use Outlook, set up its Clutter function. Over time Outlook will learn from your behavior (deleting emails, etc.) and automatically move irrelevant emails to your Clutter folder!
3. Think before sending an email
The simplest rule for emails is: if you don’t send emails, you don’t receive them! Not entirely true of course, but you get the point. Before sending an email, think to yourself: could I call this person instead? Or better yet, go talk to them face to face? Or are there maybe other and better alternatives to email?
Similarly, avoid copying the whole world in your emails. Every recipient you place in the ‘cc’ field should have a clear and valuable reason for being there. If not, you are just cluttering up their inbox!
4. Keep it Short and Sweet
Emails were made to be short messages. Most of us will look at an email preview and instantly put off opening it if we see it’s really long. By keeping your emails short and to the point you can drastically increase their chances of being read and quickly dealt with.
One way I like to do this is to limit my emails to ‘three things’. For example, “Here are the top three things you need to know about this project”. By keeping to three things and actually numbering them, you can make your email look much less overwhelming and much more actionable!
5. Don’t overuse the word “I”
It’s a pretty well-known fact that if you are sending someone an email, you need something. Try to avoid overusing the word “I” in your emails as that will make them seem that much more annoying and self-interested to the recipient. Of course it can’t be completely avoided, but before you click send simply count the number of times you’ve used it – if it’s a lot, cut down. Making your emails more inclusive will make the recipient much more willing to help you!
Feel free to pick and choose whichever works for you, as email is a very personal activity.
What are your top tips for dealing with email? Share them with us @thinkproductive and also have a look at our Productivity Ninja Email Tips for more email hacks.
By Sophie Bianchi