Depending on your prescribed philosophy, email is either the best thing since sliced bread or an emotionless and difficult medium. But one thing most people can agree on is that the number of unread messages in your email inbox is always inversely proportional to the number of other things you need to be doing.
While the best solution to a regularly full inbox is to educate colleagues on which things are email-worthy and which aren’t – no need for a monosyllabic “Thanks” email or send-to-all updates on birthdays/parties/whatever – there are steps you can take to tame this unwieldy beast yourself.
1. Automate sorting
Most email clients such as Outlook and Gmail have features that make it easy to customize which emails you will reply to and which emails can be filed away for future reference. You can limit desktop alerts, file away emails you are simply cc’d in, and automatically flag important emails. You can check out Outlook shortcuts here and even install a Chrome extension that helps you with your Gmail shortcuts.
2. Clean as you go
What cannot be automatically sorted, you can manage yourself. Just use labels and folders and move emails as you read them. Don’t set it aside for a different time, just file as you read and your inbox will be so much cleaner.
3. Unsubscribe from newsletters
Are you really reading that email from Mashable or Businessweek? Or are you subscribed simply because it makes you feel “smarter”? If you’re using your office email to subscribe to industry-news, make sure you’re reading them regularly. If not, just unsubscribe. A fun webtool called Unroll.me helps you look at all your subscriptions and unsubscribe automatically. There are some updates you need to receive, but new additions to Spotify are simply not one of them.
4. Maximize Subject Lines
A good subject line should tell the receiver or sender what is in the email. Start with the action required and the project it is in reference to. Begin with abbreviations like FYI, ATTN, FOR APPROVAL, etc. Once you start using them, your colleagues should see the efficiency possibilities. At the very least, they will reply with the same subject line and make it easier for your inbox.
5. Schedule your email checks
Most people simply check their email more often than they need to. This is of course because they’re afraid of missing an important message. Try training yourself to only check your inbox every 2 or 3 hours. Then determine from there if you can go for longer with just checking your email once in the morning and another time in the afternoon.
Email should work for you, not the other way around. Don’t spend half your workday cleaning up after it. Maximize the tools you have, use a messenger for chat, and don't let email-checking break your productivity.
Image Source: Jason Rogers on Flickr