Email avalanche is one of the most consistently stressful things about work today. Here’s how to handle it.
Is your inbox so full that you’re actually having anxiety over it? Me too! Between daily work emails, LinkedIn notifications, and all those coupons I’ll never use, my inbox has become a virtual mountain of mail.
Bet you can relate, so I’ve rounded up some tips (for both of us). Here are just a few ways to transform you inbox and stay on top of your emails…for good, this time.
If you’re dealing with backlog…
Designate some distraction-free time to it
If your inbox hasn’t been properly dealt with in weeks, or even months, then you’ll probably need to set aside an hour or more just to figure out what the damage is. And to do this properly, you’ll need to temporarily disable notifications across all of your devices.
If you’re worried your boss or colleagues might need you during that window, let all of them know ahead of time that you’ll be offline for a bit.
Use folders to sort
Once you’ve taken a thorough gander at your inbox, it’s time to start sorting. Tackle your backlog one message at a time, and create as many folders as you need to sort them all. Also, keep in mind that it’s best not to get too specific with your folders.
So if you’re a freelance writer, for example, creating separate email folders for each website you’ve worked with is a great idea. Creating specific folders for each story you’ve worked on for those websites, on the other hand, will probably be more time consuming than it’s worth.
Schedule research-heavy emails for tomorrow
If you’re sorting through a backlog and you come across emails that you know will require a researched response, schedule those replies for tomorrow.
Your goal right now is to sort through your entire inbox, and stopping to send thorough replies will mess with your momentum.
Take action on any email that can be handled in two minutes or less
While you should absolutely defer time-consuming replies during your sorting process, it’s not a bad idea to go ahead and reply to “easy” emails.
Come across an invite to an event you know you won’t be able to attend? Feel free to send back a quick and friendly declination. Then keep on movin’.
Delegate emails when you can
If you find any emails that were sent to you when they should have really been sent to your coworker or supervisor, take a few seconds to forward those messages onto the appropriate person. Or else respond to the sender, cc’ing the person you know can help.
Unsubscribe from everything you don’t use
Are you currently subscribed to newsletters you don’t read and coupons you don’t use? If so, take some time to unsubscribe from everything that’s no longer relevant to you.
It’s probably the easiest part of this whole process, and it will cut way down on the number of emails you receive each day.
Delete everything you can
Unless an email contains important information, or information that could become useful to you later on, send it straight to the trash.
Seriously. There’s no reason to hang on to emails you’re probably never going to need.
Some email providers don’t offer auto-filters, but if yours does, then you should definitely take advantage of this feature. Gmail and Outlook will let you filter all incoming messages based on keywords, senders, subjects lines, and more.
Archive anything that doesn’t need to be filed or filtered
If you come across an email that doesn’t belong in a specific folder, but you also don’t want to send it to trash, just archive it. That way you’ll have it if you need it, but you won’t waste precious folder space on it.
If you’re just a few days behind…
Schedule a few email check-ins each day
If your inbox isn’t an avalanche of messages yet, or you just got it sorted, try scheduling about three email check-ins each day going forward.
Designating a set time/s to deal with your inbox will not only help you stay on top of messages, it should make it a little bit easier for you to focus on other tasks throughout your work day.
And if your job requires more than three daily email check-ins, that’s fine too. But try not to go over five check-ins in a day, because honestly, no boss should require more than that.
Don’t send emails when you don’t have to
One super simple way to cut down on your email traffic is to stop sending emails when you could call/text/Slack someone instead.
Vicki Salemi, author career expert for Monster, agrees: “Talk to the person you’re communicating with. Sometimes we spend so much time going back and forth … that we could have resolved a conversation in less time and left little room for interpretation by picking up the phone, or walking to the person’s desk.”
You can always recap the conversation in email, for the record. Try it. Not everyone likes picking up the phone these days, but screw it. You’ll be amazed at how much time you save.
File messages as soon as you respond to them
If your work days are typically chaotic, this added step might feel unnecessary. It’s a good habit to develop, though. It only takes seconds to file an email, and filing as you go cuts down on filing time later on.
Leave yourself reminders to answer important emails
The next time you receive an important or time-sensitive email during your first email check-in of the day, but you only have a few minutes until your next meeting, create a reminder to respond later.
Whether you choose to leave a Post-It note on your desk, or schedule a response time in your Google calendar, at least you’ll know the email will get answered. Just not right now.
Consider using email templates
Depending on the kind of work you do, it’s possible that you get asked the same kinds of questions over and over again. If this sounds familiar, you might want to create a Google doc of email templates.
Of course, you should definitely personalize your messages each time you send them—but there’s no need to create a brand new message every time someone asks you about payroll dates.
Get specific with your subject lines and your messages
The more specific your emails are, the less back and forth you’ll have to deal with. If you’re requesting an answer to a simple question from someone, tell what they’re two options are, and depending on whether they go with option A and option B , what the next steps will be. Bam! You’ve just saved you both a round of email ping pong.
While it’s obviously important to pay attention to your tone, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be direct with your requests. Always be friendly and concise, and you’ll probably have fewer emails to deal with.
Consider using email apps
Personally, I haven’t started using email apps yet. They seem to help a lot of people stay organized, though, so you might want to check them out.
Boomerang will apparently push unanswered emails to the top of your inbox, and Boxr will sync up all your calendars and allow you to send emails to apps like Evernote.
Once you’ve gotten your inbox all sorted and organized, stay caught up by taking time to purge everyday.
Salemi says, “prior to the end of each day, try to clean out [your inbox] rather than having the emails pile up. This way, every morning when you arrive at your desk … you’ll start with a clean slate.”
Because you didn’t do all of this work for nothing, and we all know emails tend to snowball into stress-avalanches all too quickly.