I have a confession to make. If I don’t check my email for more than fifteen minutes, I can get nervous and anxious. Did I miss anything important? Is there someone that is awaiting a response from me that is make or break? Not to mention if I don’t check my email within 15 minutes, my inbox is often filled with dozens of unread emails. I have gotten much better over the years, but only after instituting some rules and email organization tips to help me manage and prioritize my email.
Email is a powerful double-edged sword. It has made the world more accessible where communicating for personal or business use is cheap, convenient, instantaneous, and easy to use. On the flip side, multiple studies have shown that email overload is one of the top causes of workplace stress, loss of productivity, a potential target for hackers, and bad email etiquette can cause more harm than good. A recent McKinsey study shows that the average employee spends 13 hours a week (I am at least double that!) reading, sending, and replying to email. That is 650 hours a year and equates to 30% of our work time in reactive mode, checking email constantly.
The average professional currently gets 110 real emails a day (not including spam) and by 2015 it will increase to 125 emails a day! Your email load will increase, but the hours of the day will still be the same. So what can you do about it? Instead of being a slave to email, we need to use email as a tool for our productivity. Here are the top email organization tips and hacks that can help you take back control of your life!
- Change Your Mindset. It is easy to fall into the trap that email is our #1 priority. If that is the case, then we are being reactive instead of proactive where others dictate our to-do list and what our priorities should be. Don’t let email manage you, you should be managing email. It is a tool. A tool that we should use, not have us be merely a tool!
- Quickly Scan and Prioritize Your Emails. Since any email (including spam) takes up the same space on the screen, it is tempting to think that all emails are alike. That is not true. Unimportant emails take up 58% of our inbox! There are four different types of emails and they need to be dealt with differently:
- High Priority and High Urgency: Deal with instantly or delegate to the respective people
- High Priority and Low Urgency: Move these to a designated folder where you come back to it as soon as you’re ready
- Low Priority and High Urgency: If it will take less than two minutes to do it, then do it. If it takes longer than two minutes, see if it will really impact your tasks. If not, then come back to it or delegate to people that can do it immediately
- Low Priority and Low Urgency: Delete!
- Organize your email. I have setup an email system where I have different folders, labels, tabs, and filters that automatically organize, consolidate, and prioritize my email. Don’t use your primary inbox as an archive. I make it a goal to have no more than 50 to 60 emails in my primary inbox at a time, and those are the ones are high priority. Most email programs allow you to create rules so you can sort them. In addition to my system I use an email management tool called Sanebox that files my emails into different categories based on the priority and urgency. If you use this invitation URL, you will get a free 2 week trial and $5 in SaneBox credit. This program helps me determine what emails I need to respond immediately, which ones I can come back to, and which ones I can ignore until later. Some of the nice benefits of this email management program and why I like it are:
- SaneBox automatically filters each of the four different types of emails into separate folders so you can answer, archive or delete them all at once when you have time. It memorizes your preferences and which folder you want a sender’s email to go. This way, you can have only the High Priority and High Urgency emails in your primary inbox.
- You can move the High Priority and Low Urgency emails into a Sanebox Snooze folder and they will reappear in your Inbox when you’re ready.
- I use google apps for business, so my business emails are on gmail. Since I have a maximum limit I can have on my email server, it can fill up fast with attachments. Sane Attachments scans emails in your Inbox for attachments, puts them on my Dropbox, and replaces them with a link, so I save on space!
- Sanebox sends a daily summary email which shows the emails you received and which folder it went into, just to make sure you didn’t miss anything.
- Sometimes good emails go into the SPAM folder, Sanebox scans the SPAM folder and moves good emails out.
- There is nothing to install, it is secure, connects with your social media is compatible with almost all emails systems, and more importantly saves the average worker 100 hours a year! I am a big fan of Sanebox and tough to imagine life without it! There is a cost, but if you can save lots of time and help you be more productive, lower stress, and prevent email overload or email bankruptcy, it’s worth it! If interested, click this link to get two weeks free and a $5 credit!
- Send less email. To receive less email, send less email. Email is convenient and is sometimes an easier alternative than just picking up the phone or walking across the hall to our co-worker. But the more you send and reply to, the more you will get, especially with the invention of the “reply all” “forward” and carbon copy “cc.” Unsubscribe to any emails you don’t need.
- Be concise and precise. Be brief and get to the point in your email. Be clear in the email subject line and who the intended audience is or you may receive more responses than intended. Avoid having too many topics in one email. Also practice good email manners by being polite and courteous. This can help prevent confusion or a negative perception on your tone so you can prevent any inflammatory discussions that can blow-up. If I send an email from my mobile device, I let the recipients know and ask them to “Please excuse brevity or writing errors.”
- Turn off email notifications and check at scheduled times. Every time I receive an alert I can’t help but check my email. Whether it be on a phone or computer, turn them off during scheduled time blocks to focus on your important tasks. Close your email program so you are not tempted to check periodically and break your concentration and workflow. On average, it takes more than a minute to fully recover from being interrupted by an email. Establish a routine on when you will check, how you will check, and your replies so you don’t spend too much time on “doing email”, or let it get out of hand where you have to declare “email bankruptcy!”