Email can be an incredible tool in modern work environments. It allows people working from different locations to collaborate, it can help you stay on task with unresolved issues, and it can allow you to stay in touch with clients and customers.
However, email can also be a tremendous source of wasted time and lost productivity at work. If you find yourself in your email most of your work day, or find that email has become an overwhelming part of your work, then some email strategies may help you gain significant productivity at work.
Here are 10 tips to handle email more effectively:
#1: Batch Process Your Emails
Batch processing is a productivity technique that can boost your ability to get more done in less time across many different areas of work, and email is no exception. The simple trick to batch processing is to simply block time for a certain kind of work, handling similar tasks together so that you save time switching from one type of work to another.
Email is a perfect candidate for batch processing since it is repetitive and requires a certain type of focus. Instead of jumping in and out of email continuously throughout your day, try to schedule time for email a few times a day. Make your blocks of time long enough to get through your entire inbox, using the techniques below to keep your email workflow organized and streamlined.
For this article, the first thing you will do every time you sit down to your email is do a pass through your inbox. When you start each email block with a pass, you will find that you start to get into a rhythm with handling email that drastically streamlines your entire process.
#2: Keep Your Inbox for Emails that Still Require Action
On your pass of your inbox, leave all items that still require your action right where they belong: in your inbox. When your inbox is full of items that need your action, it becomes a much clearer “to do list” that lends itself to actually getting work done.
The goal of any email organization strategy is ultimately to keep your inbox as the place where unresolved issues stay. Once any issue is resolved and you no longer need to take action, an email should be deleted, marked as spam, or moved to a folder.
#3: Delete or Mark as Spam from the Inbox
As you are doing your pass through your inbox, and before you actually open any emails, look at the subject lines and select all incoming messages that you already know are spam or otherwise irrelevant to your work. Go ahead and delete these in a group by selecting them and then trashing them.
Alternatively, if you are getting spam in your inbox, take the time to use your email programs filtering power to code those emails as spam to automatically send them to the spam folder, saving you tons of time over the long haul.
#4: Use Folders to Organize Completed Emails
As you are working through your inbox, some of the emails will just be notifications that an issue has been resolved. For example, you may receive a confirmation of a transaction, a thank you from a coworker on a certain project, or a follow up that an email you sent was received.
These types of issues are all “resolved” and thus no longer need any action from you. Rather than deleting them, simply move them to a folder or label that contains all emails of a certain type. Your organization strategy in terms of folders should make sense for your work. It could be organized by your different clients, different departments at your job, or special projects.
By using folders and/or labels, you can let go of resolved issues but still have confidence that if you ever need to go back and reference them you will be able to find them quickly. And, once that email is sent to a folder, you no longer have it cluttering up your inbox.
#5: Unsubscribe to Irrelevant Newsletters and Alerts
It is worth the time to go ahead and unsubscribe to newsletters and alerts that are not relevant to your work. These emails can become a distraction, the last thing you want when you are trying to maintain your focus and check off your to do list.
#6: Create a Separate Work and Personal Email Account
One of the biggest mistakes people make when it comes to email is to use the same account for both personal and professional communications. This is just a recipe for distraction and loss of focus. It also creates clutter in your inbox, the main cause of getting overwhelmed when it comes to email.
Keep your personal communication to a different email account and you will find that focusing on work issues during your email time is much easier.
#7: Apply the Two-Minute Rule
When doing your email pass, go ahead and resolve any issues that only take two-minutes or less to resolve. And, once you do resolve them, don’t forget to go back in and move the original out of your inbox and into the appropriate folder.
By taking care of small issues every time you do a pass, you are keeping your inbox as clean as you can, drawing attention to what still needs to be done, and helping you to keep your eye on the prize when it comes to issues that still need your attention.
By getting easy issues out of the way, you can then shift your focus to the issues that might require more effort to deal with. Without the clutter of a bunch of little things, you can do better with larger and more complex issues that require deeper levels of your attention.
#8: Create Email Templates for Repetitive Issues
Do you find yourself saying the same thing over and over in email? One of the best things you can do if you find yourself handling repetitive issues in email is to create a template response that you can quickly customize as a reply.
You can do this either by using your email program or by using a separate file system, but the trick will be getting to your template text quickly and easily to save time.
#9: Request to Be Removed from Group Emails You Don’t Need to Be Involved In
There is a tendency in professional environments to add too many people to group emails which creates a lot of unnecessary and sometimes confusing traffic in your inbox. If you know that you don’t need to be “in the loop” on a particular discussion that is creating unnecessary traffic in your inbox, simply request to be removed from the list.
#10: Learn to Use and Trust Email Search Functions
Finally, many people allow their inbox to get cluttered because they worry they won't be able to find a given email down the road if they need it. However, the opposite is true. By leaving random emails that have been taken care of in your inbox, you are actually making your email work much more difficult on yourself because you cannot tell at a glance what needs your attention, and what doesn't.
Instead of keeping resolved emails in your inbox, learn how to use folders as mentioned above, and also learn how to use the search feature of your email program. This will give you the peace of mind that if you need an email down the road, you can find it easily with a few key search terms.