For the business professional, email is integral to your day — but managing it can quickly become a tiresome hassle. Clicking in and out of your inbox can feel like a momentum-stealing exercise and make you think you’re completing everyone’s tasks except your own.
The truth is that it’s normal to feel overwhelmed or annoyed by email management. For instance, based on a recent survey on workplace communication, 47 per cent of people believe that the majority of all their work emails are “irrelevant” and therefore clutter.
Want to make the most of your inbox and stay at the height of your output? Here are five tips to help you manage your inbox and improve your productivity.
1. Stick to a schedule
This is an easy one that will likely be habit-forming for you. Set aside time specifically for email, and email only. It’s easy to get into the vortex of checking your inbox every time an email arrives, or when your phone buzzes with a notification.
Before you jump to reply, make sure you read the subject line (and look at the sender) to ensure it’s not an urgent request, then leave it unopened until your designated time to handle email. Non-urgent messages that you cannot finish in the allotted time can wait until the next day. This takes judgement and practice to ensure you can do your job as required, but it will ease your mind and make you more productive.
Science agrees with this method, too. According to neuroscientists at Stanford, switching between tasks too often (like constantly checking email while working on something else) makes people feel dizzy and overtired. Instead, checking your email three times a day — once at the beginning of your shift, once midday and once at the end of the day — might provide a better balance.
2. Build expectations
Your improved email management patterns will spread to your colleagues as well. Outside of urgent requests, you may begin to notice that coworkers take on some of your better qualities when it comes to contacting you via email.
Return the favour and try to contact them in a productive way as well. For instance, it’s best to email people in the morning according to Mailchimp and Hubspot studies, as 9 am and 11 am have the highest open rates. It makes sense, as checking email is one of the very first things workers do when they reach their computer.
3. Use task lists and folders
Getting better at managing email means being diligent about what’s in your inbox. If you’re able to reply quickly to an email — and it’s necessary — try to keep it to a couple of minutes or less, but get it done during your scheduled time.
If it requires more time, then add it to your to-do list or set time on your calendar for the work. For emails that you feel will take even longer, especially those connected to larger projects, add them to a task list as part of those ongoing projects and ensure they are processed by the deadline.
Once you’ve responded, be sure to move them out of your inbox and into a categorized folder, as it will help you feel productive and ensure that anything else that comes in gets the attention it deserves. You don’t need the constant reminder that old email is taking up room in your inbox.
4. Don’t reply
This is another cut and dry tip. You don’t need to reply to every email in your inbox.
Whether it’s an FYI, an update that is delivered through multiple channels or just unfortunate clutter, many emails are informational only. We are often tempted to send back a quick “thanks” or “received the message” type of response, but not replying is a reply in itself.
If this isn’t an option based on the process in your company, deferring those less urgent responses until a later time is an option as well (see step 1).
5. Change the medium
If it’s easier to have a face-to-face conversation or make a quick call, take the email offline and make it happen. Often, connecting all the dots necessary for an email, especially for one-to-one conversations, takes more time than a quick chat ever could.
This personal connection will have the added benefit of making sure the message is understood, follow-up questions are immediately answered, and that no tonal notes are lost — something that could prevent workplace conflicts or miscommunication.
Putting all of these tips into practice, you’ll start to excel at managing your inbox and hopefully have a more productive day.