10 Email Management Tips to Stay on Top of Your Inbox

Email management is about taking control of your Inbox. Are you swamped by the number of emails that you receive? Do you spend your workday living out of your Inbox while your important projects take a backseat?

Email is one of those time savers that makes one wonder "How did we ever do without?". But if not managed well email can reduce your productivity!

Did you know that:

  • the average worker spends over 2 hours per day reading and responding to email and it is expected to rise
  • 15% of Americans are addicted to email (Fast Company Magazine)
  • over half of the population check their email as soon as it arrives (Aon Consulting)
  • 43% of people check their email first thing in the morning (AOL Opinion Research).

These are amazing facts that speak to the importance of taking control of the Inbox before the Inbox takes control of you.

Here we prove 10 email management tips to take control of your Inbox before it takes control of you.

1. Practice the one-touch one-decision rule

In Basketball they have a concept called Triple Threat in which the offensive player with the basketball has three choices - they can dribble, pass, or shoot the ball. Well it is the same with email but you have essentially 5 choices to make.

This framework for managing email is stop procrastination and get your Inbox to zero.

email management

2. Batch your email (and don't check in between)

While much of time management is about breaking things down, managing the email is about chunking things together. Research shows that if you check email constantly then you spend more time on email. On top of this there is the added loss in concentration.

When working with clients, batching emails is one of the hardest things to do because they are used to having the email open constantly. For many the email is their default screen that is open on the computer. These email tips save you time on your email.

3. Take off the email notification

You are concentrating on an important task and today is the deadline. You are under pressure only to have a pop-up window notify that "you have mail". You try to ignore this, and get on with the important task, but it continues to be in your mind.

Is it important? Who is it from?

Finally you put down your important task and check. More often than not it is an unimportant message that really didn't need to take your attention away from your deadline.

This scenario illustrates how email can shatter your concentration on the job and divert you from your goals and current priorities. It will probably take another 5 minutes to get back to the same levels of concentration.

4. Use email templates (and don't reinvent the wheel)

Have you ever written an email and thought 'I's sure I've written a similar response before'. Rather than searching through your sent emails and re-crafting your message, or worse, drafting your response from scratch, why not use an email template and customize it for the person or the situation.

Creating an email template means you don't have to re-invent the wheel for those regular emails that you send to clients, suppliers, or your team.

5. The more specific your subject line the better

Make your subject line clear to the recipient. Busy people typically scan their inbox by subject. Make sure that your subject line is relevant.

The subject line should give the email recipient enough information on the content of the email, which should be clear and concise. This also aids searching for that email when you need to find that important information.

6. Use email filters for good email management

email filtering

There is a lot of email that does not really need to take our attention off the main game. Good email management means that you need to use email filters.

Filtering is useful for those emails that are low value, such as SPAM or the latest sales from your local store. Spending 5 minutes setting up these email filters will save hours of your time.

Periodically, quickly scan this folders that you are filtering to for messages that the filter has mistakenly put there.

7. Follow email etiquette rules

Long email threads, muddy subject lines, CC'ing the whole company, poorly written email communication means time on email is likely to increase. The Wall Street Journal recently reported that it won’t be long before people are spending 3-4 hours a day on email.

Poor etiquette costs your company money and is a drain on your productivity. Here are 10 email etiquette rules for you and your team to follow.

8. Use an effective email signature

If you are looking to save time then an email signature could be for you. An email signature means that you don't have to keep typing your name or contact details below each message that you send and is an opportunity to provide a consistent and professional image to your clients and suppliers.

Here are the steps to set up an effective email signature.

9. Use keyboard shortcuts

Given we spend much time on email repeatedly typing similar content or using similar commands, it makes sense to use keyboard shortcuts for good email management. Keyboard shortcuts can dramatically reduce your time on email.

Here is a cheat-sheet with all the keyboard shortcuts for Gmail.

Here is a cheat-sheet with all the keyboard shortcuts for Microsoft Outlook.

10. Make a decision on your folder structure

If you use email folders then make sure, for good email management, that you use email folders that make intuitive sense to you. They should reflect your roles, responsibilities, and recurring activities.

If you keep a folder structure, your folder structure should be relatively flat (with broad categories) so that you don't spend too much time filing the email.

But consider not using a folder structure at all for email management.

The search capability in Gmail and Microsoft Outlook 2010 are already very good. A study by IBM found that people spend 58 seconds going through their folders to find a message, compared to 17 seconds using the email search function. 

So an option could be to set up one folder - lets call it "processed email" and when you have processed the email just move it into a processed folder.

See this IBM research on 'Am I wasting my time organizing email? A study of email refinding'

If you liked this article you may also like how to write an email that saves you time.

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