Whether you’re working, sleeping, eating, or spending quality time with your family doesn’t matter – encroaching emails are filling up your inbox. With most business-related information flowing through this channel nowadays, it’s unbelievably easy to have your inbox cluttered with messages.
When dealing with all these emails, it’s important not to lose track of time, as checking them can quickly turn into a productivity drain. Find out how to best manage your emails without burning valuable time.
When (Not) to Do It?
You may be tempted to respond to every email that pops up in your inbox, letting curiosity get the best of you. If that were to happen, I’d understand as we’ve all been there. However, to avoid this massive blow to your productivity, it’s best that you make a rule out of responding only once, or at most, twice per day.
It would seem obvious to perform one of these two checks first thing in the morning. However, doing so will spread out your attention to the four corners of the world right off the bat, and there’s a good chance your focus will not recover. Instead of logging in as soon as your eyes have opened, make sure to take care of the most important task on your itinerary, i.e., Eat Your Frog first. Never ever check your email first thing in the morning!
Once you’re done with the most pressing (and important) tasks on your to-do list, you can now go through your inbox in one batch. Not all of the emails you receive will be of equal relevance, so it’s important to know a practical way of sifting through them. Despite the fact that you’ve already taken care of the most essential daily tasks, you still don’t want emails to consume the rest of your day.
Deciding What to Do
Now that you’re ready to tackle your chattering inbox, it’s time to decide how you’re going to go about it. Basically, there are four options to choose from:
- Delete an email (if it’s unimportant, not relevant, or does not need your attention)
- Answer it (apply GTD’s (Getting Things Done) two-minute rule here: if you can reply in less than two minutes, do so now)
- Defer for later (if you need more than two minutes to answer this email, you should take care of it later during the day once you have all information needed)
- File an email
The first two steps are largely self-explanatory and can be resolved immediately. However, to properly Defer and File some of your emails, you should create three different folders in your inbox.
1. You can call the first one To-Do (this is where you put all emails that need to be answered, but you need more than two minutes to do so)
2. The second one can be called References, and this is where you will put all emails you need to keep because they contain information that will be useful to you in the near future. These do not need answers from you.
3. The third one can be called Support, and this is where you will put emails that you delegate to somebody else on the team or if you’re waiting for an answer from somebody.
And this is it for the first email batch of the day. By the end of this process, you should now have reached Inbox Zero and will be ready to tackle the rest of your day. Don’t worry if you aren’t there yet. Depending on how long you’ve let your inbox run rampant, there may be too many emails to go through and take care of all at once. Through the repetition of the process above, you’ll reach the goal of a pristine email inbox sooner or later.
I usually would suggest opening your inbox for the second time one hour before the end of your day. The first thing to do is to go through the same process as in the morning since it’s likely you’d have received some emails between this morning and the end of the afternoon.
Then, go through your To-Do folder and see if you have the proper information to answer all the emails in this folder. If you do not, you can create some tasks for yourself in your To-Do list or productivity system. Such an organized email can serve multiple purposes and help you in numerous ways.
Check the References folder next and make note of anything that might be useful for you today or tomorrow. Much like with the To-Do folder, you can store additional items in this folder and create bits and pieces of information that you will need sooner or later.
Finally, go through the Support one and see if you now have received the help or support needed for those emails. If you have received all the necessary information, you can answer the email and be done with it.
You should, of course, archive all emails in each folder that have now been answered or are not relevant anymore. This way, you’ll keep your inbox and all the supporting folders sparkling clean and easy to navigate.
With this system, you should reach the end of your day with:
- An empty inbox
- Action items for your unanswered emails
- Useful references for the next day
It is extremely important to go through your inbox regularly and follow those exact same steps every time. Failing to do so even just once can get you off track and create an unnecessary workload to sift through. Much like anything else, establishing a routine when it comes to checking your emails will make you better organized and noticeably more productive. With a cleverly devised method, you’ll have an excellent alternative to rummaging through your emails, and you’ll be able to keep all the distractions at bay. Give it a go, and you’ll see miracles happen for your productivity and organizational capabilities.