How to Prioritize Your Inbox
Staying on top of your inbox can make all the difference when you’re trying to navigate a busy week at work.
It may seem counterintuitive when you’re snowed under with work but keeping your email organized can make you more productive and reduce stress. In fact, we spend over a quarter of our time at work dealing with emails, and this could be reduced if we did so more effectively. 83% of employees report being more stressed when using email, so it makes sense to do so more efficiently to improve the way we work and how we feel.
Your own ‘inbox revolution’ may take a bit of effort to embark upon, but once you’ve taken a few initial steps it becomes a simple task of maintaining good habits. Start by putting aside a couple of hours to spring clean your email account and get it into perfect shape. This begins with clearing out your inbox, by deleting unwanted mail and archiving important things that you don’t need right now. Gmail has its own ‘archive’ function, and most other email clients will allow you to create a folder of your own: either create one master archive folder, or several of different categories if this will help you find stuff later. A tidy inbox is a tidy mind!
While you’re filing (or binning) these emails, look out for promotional ones that you never really read, and click ‘Unsubscribe’ in their footers as you go. It takes over a minute to get your full concentration back after being notified of a new email, so putting an end to these wasteful interruptions is a good start!
Great, so now your inbox is a pleasant place to be – maybe you’ve even reached that fabled ‘inbox zero’. Now it’s time to take steps to keep it that way.
Set yourself some rules about how you will deal with email from now on. For example, don’t allow yourself to be distracted by every notification – in fact, unless being constantly accessible is part of your work, switch notifications off altogether. Either way, try to get into a habit of setting aside two or three blocks of time a day to check your emails, as this is much more time efficient than tabbing over to your inbox several times an hour and breaking your regular flow of work.
And when it does come to checking your emails, ask yourself a simple question each time you open one: is this actionable? If it is something you can deal with within two minutes, do so. If not, file it to come back to at a pre-allotted time. Don’t just leave it in your inbox, getting bumped down lower and lower as more messages come in.
Once your inbox is clear and your basic email routine is up to scratch, you’re ready to take it to the next level. Depending which provider you use, you probably have a ton of useful functions in your email software that you’ve never thought to use. For example, Gmail and Outlook offer the facility to sort your email automatically as it comes in. It just takes a few minutes to set up some ‘rules’ by which they assess each message, and then they will file your emails into the appropriate folders as they arrive.
If you send a lot of very similar messages, it can be useful to set up an auto-reply or email templates to deal with this kind of thing quicker rather than typing the whole thing out each time. Most apps will allow you to do this to some extent – check out their help pages for precise instructions on how to do so.
Email has become a big part of our lives, and it can be so much more effective than snail mail and fax used to be. Here’s a handy infographic to help you develop some good habits to use email as a tool rather than suffering it as a burden.
Courtesy of NetCredit.