Email is an important workplace tool, but only if you know how to utilize it. If you do not keep up with the emails coming into your inbox, it can quickly overflow.
Once your inbox is full of unread mail, it can be difficult to regain control. Besides exposing you to the possibility of overlooking important emails and failing to respond to them in a timely manner, inbox overflow also poses other problems. A cluttered inbox can slow down your computer, as well as make it take longer for you to perform simple actions like checking, sorting and responding to emails. The sooner you correct inbox overflow, the sooner you can restore greater efficiency to your life and work.
The goal of dealing with inbox overflow is to get to what is known as “inbox zero,” or an empty inbox. This means every email sent to you is dealt with one way or another and summarily removed from your inbox. In this way, no email lingers until it is ignored and forgotten. There are two basic stages to dealing with inbox overflow: cleaning up your current unread messages and preventing new emails from piling up. The sections below provide more details on tips for clearing out your inbox.
You may be tempted to leave emails in your inbox to deal with later, believing that you may have more free time in the future to address it. The reality is you probably will not have any more free time in the future than you do now. If you do not feel you have the time to read an email in the present, chances are the email is not worth reading at all. To help minimize the amount of time it takes to go through emails, set a three-minute timer per email you read in your inbox. When the timer goes off, take the appropriate action with the email and move on.
The first step to dealing with inbox overflow is to get rid of any current overflow. There are a couple of different ways of doing this. The first method is more deliberate but time-consuming, while the other is much quicker but more drastic. The more deliberate manner is to set aside a block of time to catch up with your emails, reading each one and taking the appropriate action to respond to and/or delete it. Resist the urge to simply sort your emails into different folders to review later. This usually serves no more than to spread a single overflowing inbox out into multiple smaller boxes without decreasing the amount of emails you still must go through. This approach also takes up time you could have spent reading the emails in the first place.
The more extreme approach to clearing your inbox is to delete everything in it all at once. Then, reach out to contacts who have sent you email to inform them your inbox has been deleted. Ask them to resend any pertinent emails still requiring your response.
Too many people try to browse emails one or a few at a time as it becomes convenient. The problem is, they rarely take any time beyond this to deal with those emails. To prevent a newly cleared inbox from overflowing with emails all over again, individuals must commit to regularly checking and clearing new emails as they come in.
In some cases, especially if you use email for work, checking your inbox once a day may not be enough. Schedule into your day two or three slots to do nothing more than go through your unread emails. If you also check your emails throughout the day, make sure email disappears from your inbox before you move on. When you open an email, either respond to it and delete it or delete it right after reading it. Do not let it linger there taking up space. It will only take up more of your time when you open your inbox again.
Email subscriptions can be great if they provide you with information and resources you can use. However, if you do not use them they become more clutter in your inbox. Unread subscription emails can quickly pile up, filling your inbox with junk and making it difficult to find important emails. Take a moment to go through your inbox and look for email subscriptions you’re signed up for. If you do not regularly read emails from a particular subscription, unsubscribe immediately.
In some cases, you may not be the right or best person to deal with a particular email. You may find your inbox constantly filling up with clutter because you are consistently worried about writing the wrong response. When this occurs, find out who the correct person is, and forward the email to him or her immediately.
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In other cases, you may need to obtain information from another person to respond to an email. When this occurs, reach out to the person and obtain the information immediately. That way, you can respond to the email as soon as possible to get it off your plate.
There are several apps you can use to help you manage your inbox and keep it from overflowing. Different apps do this in different ways. Some apps let you move emails into categories for reading later, allowing you to delete them from your inbox in the meantime. Other apps help you organize your emails for easier processing, such as adding action labels to subject headers. Examples of useful labels include:
Other useful features of apps and email software for wrangling inbox overflow include automatically routing read emails to the archive folder and using filters to create separate inboxes from internal, external and cc’d emails.
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