Even the most organized of us have opened our inbox only to find a jumbled mess, or shared the look of pure dread showing on our faces as we look at our phones and see the notification number rising by the minute. It can leave us all wondering where to start with responses, how much or day to spend unsubscribing and thinking, “How did this person get my email?”
When not managed properly, email becomes a major hindrance to productivity. According to 2012 research by the McKinsey Global Institute, more than one-quarter of a person's day, on average, is spent answering and reading emails.
What to do with this never ending fountain of emails to minimize inbox overwhelm? Try these 5 ways to better organize your inbox and keep the essential task of emailing as stress-free as possible.
1. Keep Inbox Organization as a Daily Priority
Plan to spend just a few minutes at the beginning and end of each day organizing your inbox. Just a few minutes at each end can greatly reduce stress and the amount of time spent throughout the day trying to make sense of your inbox and gives you a sense of accomplishment at the end of each day.
2. Purge and Archive
If you know you don’t need it and/or it takes more than three seconds to figure out if you do, chances are you probably do not. Go ahead and send those emails to trash. If it does not require a response and you aren’t 80% sure you will come back to look at it, delete.
Should the email in question be something of interest you may need or want to refer to later, send it to archive. This keeps it clear of your inbox, reducing clutter, but you won’t have to go digging through deleted messages to find it later.
3. The Two Minute Rule
As you’re browsing through your emails, if you come across something that can be taken care of in two minutes or less, go ahead and get it done. If it needs a response, draft your quick response right there; if it needs to be forwarded, send it on its way with a quick note. After you respond or forward, go ahead and delete or file in the appropriate folder away from your inbox.
4. Tags & Folders
Depending on your email platform, your inbox may be equipped with tags, folders, categories, or a combination of these. Use these tools to your advantage and make them as clear as possible.
Some individuals prefer to have lots of folders and categories for easy searches; others do best with five or fewer folders and categories. Figure out what works for you and stick with it. Be sure to categorize and file right away when you’re looking at your emails; otherwise, it can become difficult to manage.
Going back to number one on this list helps greatly with this, too. If you end up in a hurry and skipped filing and/or categorizing, saving just a few minutes at the beginnings and ends of your days will account for the busy times where we fall prone to forgetfulness.
5. Stars & Flags
Marking your high priority emails is key. Depending on your email platform, it may be a star, flag or other symbol. Marking those important messages as you’re sifting through your inbox makes it easy to come back and see what is high priority. TIP: Have a folder specifically for lower priority emails requiring a response or action from you, so they aren’t clogging your inbox and diverting your focus when you’re responding to high priority email.
With these 5 ways to organize your inbox, you should start feeling some relief relatively quickly.
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