Much like laundry and bills, no matter how much you try to keep up, e-mails just keep piling up in your inbox. E-mail is a critical part of your day-to-day work, so how do you keep it from becoming a distraction while balancing the things you really need to address? Here are 6 tips…
- Zero your inbox. Do you remember the last time your inbox was empty? Probably never; that's because it costs nothing to keep an e-mail and therefore you don't delete items “just in case” you need them at some point. This really causes messages to pile up FAST. Truth be told, you really DON'T need all those e-mails. Make it a goal to “zero” your inbox every week, particularly on a Friday before you leave for home. If you can't “zero” it, at least get the number down to fewer than a dozen critical messages you absolutely need to work on within the next 2-3 days.
- Use folders sparingly. Only set up key, strategic folders or you'll end up with dozens of folders filled with messages in addition to a massive number of messages in your inbox. You might keep one labeled as “storage” for any non-urgent messages that may need to be referenced at a later date. This keeps your inbox free of clutter and helps you more easily find something in an old message when it is needed.
- Delete first, read the surviving messages later. Many of the e-mails you get probably aren't even worth reading. Start your day by immediately deleting these emails before you even start to open and read the important ones.
- Take action immediately. Probably the most helpful way to keep your inbox uncluttered is to take action right away on all messages instead of reading them and then going back to them later when you have time to process the message properly. By taking action right away you avoid wasting time re-reading messages. If it does require a follow up that you don't have time for, file the message and mark a reminder to follow up. Otherwise forward it, delete it or file it into a folder
- Slow your roll. Your e-mail can be a constant distraction through your workday, IF you let it! Take control and set aside “e-mail free” time periods throughout the day so you can truly concentrate on projects without interruption. The world won't stop if you don't check your email every few minutes, I promise.
- Install a GOOD spam filter. The vast majority of messages are unwanted spam, some of which contain viruses. But not all spam filters are created equal!