Keeping your inbox in check is something most of us don’t even think about. After all, you just read all your emails and reply to the ones that need replies, right?
As anyone who works a desk job in 2017 will tell you, it’s not as easy as it sounds – one study estimates that UK employees spend 50% of their time on emails – and it can be overwhelming at first. Luckily, there are plenty of ways to manage your emails so they take up less of your time.
Email 101: create inbox folders and (more importantly) use them properly. Think of your inbox as an in-tray and your inbox folders as a filing cabinet. If you keep pending tasks in your in-tray and file everything else away, you won’t mix up the old and the new, so you’re less likely to miss important stuff.
It’s also worth thinking about which folders are archives that you pull info from regularly, and which are glorified recycling bins. If you know you’ll need to access specific emails in future, store them in a way that makes sense.
For example, if you have inbound emails from multiple customers, create a folder for each customer. Within those customer folders, you could also create sub-folders to sort the messages further, but be careful not to go too far. If you already feel like email is using up too much of your time, a complicated filing system will only make it worse. Find whatever works for you.
Any email program worth its salt will have a function that allows you to put tabs on inbound mails. This is a great way to sort the To Do from the Done, and a life-saver if you’re sharing a team mailbox with your colleagues. Here are some useful ones to get you started:
I’ve replied to this mail and now I’m waiting for a response.
I’m waiting on more info before replying to this mail.
I haven’t looked at this yet.
[Your Name Here]
This person is handling this mail (for shared inboxes).
This is high priority or contains useful info.
Most category tools will use colours so once you’ve got used to using them, one glance will tell you exactly where your inbox is at.
One subject, one mail chain
This is about mail etiquette as much as it is email management. Rule one: make your subject lines relevant, short, and unique to the conversation if possible. Think about what will help you find the chain later.
Rule two: don’t change the subject line of a mail unless the topic has changed and the current subject isn’t relevant. Again, subject lines are by far the easiest way to keep track of a mail chain – use them wisely.
Rule three: avoid letting one mail chain split off into several parallel conversations with the same subject line and different recipients. If this happens, try to bring everyone together into one chain.
If that’s not possible, keep the original subject on the “main” chain and change subject of the split. To avoid confusion, always let recipients of the split mail know that you changed the subject line and why.
Reply with care
Always check who’s in the Send To box and always take account of the previous mails in the chain before sending, especially if you’re dealing with sensitive information or you've got a case of the dreaded split mail chain. Accidently sending evidence of your profit margins to a competitor or CC’ing a customer in on an internal email to your manager is never a good look.
You should also consider who you’re sending the mail to – do you really need to CC that extra person in just in case? Keeping your send-to list as short as possible will make life easier for everyone.
Finally – while this might sound obvious – always include all the relevant information first time around. If the recipient has to reply with “sorry, please can you clarify...”, the amount of mails you’re getting has just doubled.
Save time with templates
This is more of a time-saver than anything else. If you’re sending similar emails to the same people over and over, give the template function a go if your mail program has one. Add recipients, subject, text, etc and hit save – and voila! Next time you want to send that mail, you can hit one button and your inbox does most of the legwork.
There might also be shortcuts for filing mails into folders or rules that you can set up to make your inbox sort incoming mails into folders automatically. Again, experiment whenever you have time and find what works for you.
You’ll be at inbox zero in no time!
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