We are the change

5 tips for showing your inbox who’s boss

Feeling overwhelmed with your emails but not sure what to do? Well, here’s a little story…

Once upon a time there was a lady (let’s call her Molly). Now Molly lives in a time when email doesn’t exist, instead she gets all her communication by good old fashioned ‘pen to paper’ post through a letterbox. Molly gets an awful lot of post, infact she gets around 50 letters a day.

The thing is, Molly’s post comes more than once a day. She doesn’t just get one visit from her friendly postie, her letters come piling through her door every hour of every day – a constant stream of paper. Molly is used to it and can’t imagine it being any other way. She does however have a rather nutty way of dealing with it. And that is… she leaves it. Leaves it there, right on top of her welcome mat. And so another letter comes and arrives on top of it, then another, and another and another. Until the welcome mat is groaning under the weight and Molly can hardly get through the door. Occasionally Molly will open a few important looking letters, have a quick glance then put them back on the pile where she found them – she’ll deal with that later. But then more mail arrives and those important letters get buried beneath hundreds more.

People think Molly’s a bit bonkers. And I have to say, I’m inclined to agree. I mean, who leaves post to pile up like that, getting in your way and hiding all the important stuff so it’s at risk never to be seen again?

Well, you may not treat your post in that way. You may pick it up as soon as it arrives and wouldn’t dream of leaving it on the floor to pile up. However, and this is the crux, if you are constantly leaving all your emails in your inbox to pile up one after the other, you are effectively doing exactly the same thing as Molly and her mountain of post.

So, what should you be doing?

1. Get emptying

The first task is to empty your inbox. Yep, you heard me, just get it cleared. If you have so many emails that you can’t bear to go through them all, then simply file any recent important mail so you at least know where to find them, then move all the rest into a folder called archive.

Ooh that was easy wasn’t it?! Now we have a clean slate to work with.

2. Set time for an inbox rendezvous

With the invention of smart phones and tablets, it’s so easy these days to jump in and out of your inbox like a yoyo from wherever you are in the world. At first this seems fantastic – but is it really? With such easy access, emails can serve as a huge distraction from your day to day work.

Rather than logging into your emails every 5 minutes, try blocking time to spend on email. You can then whizz through your mail all in one go which is a far better use of your time.

If you’re really struggling and can’t help looking at your email, why not try turning off your network and phone for an hour? Unless instant messaging is absolutely essential for your work (which for most people it really isn’t) then it’s worth a try. Seriously, the world is not going to end.

3. Open it, then deal with it

How you deal with an email when you first see it can be a huge factor in how much time it sponges up from your precious day. Making a few tweaks here and there with how you manage your mail when you first see it, will do wonders to your inbox. The key here is to not leave open emails floating around aimlessly!

When you open your inbox and read a new email do one of the following:

  • Deal with it now. If it’s literally just a case of sending a quick sentence in reply, accepting an appointment or saving a document to your folders, do it there and then. Letting it hang over you will only mean you’ll waste time returning to that same email to re-read. Once dealt with, you can then transfer the email to an appropriate ‘completed tasks’ folder or simply press delete.
  • Move larger tasks into a pending file. For emails that need more thought or action, move them into a file called ‘pending’. You then need to block times in your calendar to deal specifically with these tasks.

Doing one of the above actions, will ensure that when you open your inbox, only unread emails will be seen immediately. You won’t have the pile of opened unactioned emails to clamber over in the same way Molly did with her post. Previously read emails should be nicely filed away having either been dealt with or waiting for further action.

4: Get the tools to do the filtering

If you have more than one email address or receive a particularly high volume of emails, setting up email filtering can be hugely helpful. Filtering tools allow you to set criteria to ensure that certain emails bypass your inbox and go straight into specific folders. For example, I personally have filters that automatically move any newsletters directly into a separate folder. This ensures that important client mail doesn’t get lost amongst the ‘news’ and I can then read the newsletters with a cuppa when I have a spare 5 minutes.

Check your specific email software under ‘message rules’ or ‘junk email options’ to find the tools for setting filters.

5: Cut down the spam and keep things tidy

If you’re handing out your email address left, right and centre then you’re asking for trouble. Always choose wisely who receives your email address or you may end up with tons of spam heading your way. If a newsletter is not what you thought it would be then unsubscribe (any decent newsletter should have a nice and easy unsubscribe button).

If spam has managed to worm its way into your main inbox, then always label it as spam and help cut down the risk of it happening again. Similarly if you’ve got emails coming in that don’t need any action and are not of any use to you then hit that delete button. Leaving useless emails floating around your system will just be irritating when you are trying to find important mail. Keep it all nice and tidy and it will pay off later.

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  1. Suyog says

    Hi Kathryn,
    Your “Get the tools to do the filtering” is very good.

  2. Rithu says

    Very nice Kathryn. I really felt it was easy to do. Thanks for letting us know about new trends and info.