5 ways to organise your email inbox for greater productivity
30 January 2017
With research showing that we receive around 121 emails a day (this may be higher if you’re a manager or director) it’s a wonder how we manage to keep up the constant communication. However email can quickly become a drain on time if not managed correctly. The average worker now spends 28% of their time managing email, meaning if you work Monday-Friday, 9am-5pm, that’s one whole workday is dedicated to your inbox.
There are many suggestions out there on how we can better manage our inbox and email communications, but some of them aren’t that practical for the majority of people to use. Luckily by using a few of the inbuilt tools in your inbox and some time management skills, you can streamline your inbox, read and process incoming mail more effectively and become more productive.
1. Unsubscribe, unsubscribe, unsubscribe
Set aside time to blitz your inbox and unsubscribe from any irrelevant newsletters and communications. Fear of missing out (FOMO) on the latest news, analysis and offers can make reluctant to hit the unsubscribe button but really think about how often you really read each newsletter that lands in your inbox – there’s a chance the many you simply open to mark as “read” because they don’t deliver any real value.
Of course if there’s a weekly newsletter you love seeing in your inbox and enjoy reading as soon as it arrives then keep on subscribing, but if you keep receiving weekly “offers” from that stationary supply company you placed an order with once, several months ago, then hit unsubscribe. Don’t forget there’s nothing to stop you from re-subscribing if you find yourself missing a newsletter.
2. Make use of rules and folders
Quickly scan your emails and create a list of “big” categories. Depending which department you are in you may have categories like: Vendors, Accounts Payable, Accounts Receivable, Customer Service, Receipts, Internal, Recruitment etc. If you want you can also create subfolders within each category to further divide your emails, but don’t worry about being too specific – you just want recognisable categories which make it easier to manage your inbox. Don’t forget you can utilise the search function within Microsoft Outlook if you need to find particular email, so there’s no need to create subfolders by sender name, date, subject etc.
Another feature you might want to take advantage of is “Rules”, which you can use to automatically file messages away into their correct folders as soon as they hit your inbox. You can choose whether you want these messages to be displayed in the New Alert window (ideal for high priority messages) or to play a selected sound. You have a whole host of Advanced Option to choose from as well including flagging a message to be followed up in a specific time, mark as important, mark as read, delete or send an automatic reply so you can ensure you prioritise important communications.
3. Don’t check email so often
Checking email has become synonymous with work, but often it just distracts us from more important tasks. How often have you been in the middle of a piece of work only to be distracted by the ping of your inbox, or an email notification popping up on your desktop. We immediately feel the need to check our inbox but it’s rarely anything urgent, and then it can be difficult to get your mind refocused on the task you were in the middle of. Even if each new email only distracts you for 30 seconds, if you receive 100 emails a day that’s 50 minutes you’ve wasted on checking your inbox.
Luckily there’s an easy way to prevent emails from distracting – simply turn off your audio and visual notifications. Log into your email account and go to File > Options > Select Mail in the left hand column > Scroll down to Message Arrival > Untick all the message alerts.
Worried about missing a specific email? You can set up an “Rule” which will override this setting. For example you could choose to have any emails from your manager to play a selected sound or display in the new alert folder.
If you still find you’re getting distracted by the thought of new email then try setting aside specific periods of each day to check your inbox. You could check once in the morning when you first arrive at the office, once around lunchtime and then once again in the afternoon. If three checks per day doesn’t work for you then try once per hour, 45 minutes of focused work and 15 minutes of email management. Chances are you’ll find it easier to focus with regular, allotted breaks.
4. Try to get to inbox zero every day
There’s nothing worse than logging in to check your emails and finding your inbox overflowing with hundreds of messages. It can be tempting to just select all and hit delete but you never know what you might miss. Instead of allowing your messages to build up over time, try to set aside some time at the end of each day to review and clear your inbox. Reply to important communications, file away emails in the relevant folders and hit unsubscribe to any irrelevant marketing communications as you go. Tackling your email in a more strategic fashion should make it more manageable. Of course you will get some emails over night, but you’re likely to come in in the morning to a significantly smaller number of unread messages than you normally would.
5. Try email archiving
A lot of people will recommend that set aside time to sort emails into “keep” and “delete” and trash any emails which are no longer relevant/necessary, or declare “email bankruptcy”. While this suggestion would probably work for your personal inbox it can be a bit more tricky in business situation. Emails are important records of business decisions and if you company were to become involved in legal proceedings you may be required to present all related email conversations dating back to as far as six years.
With a cloud-based email archiving solution you have long-term, ultra-secure and forensically compliant storage for your emails without clogging up your inbox. Emails are automatically archived and remain so even if deleted from your inbox. Every email is digitally finger printed and time stamped to ensure authenticity, and you can even restore emails direct to your inbox if required.
Email is a necessary part of a business, but it doesn’t have to be a necessary evil. With a few simple tricks and some organisation you can prevent email from draining all your time and focus instead on growing your business. Don’t forget to encourage employees to pick up the phone and call, or just come and speak to you in person, if they have an urgent matter to discuss – not everything needs to be done over email.