I can remember a time when we didn’t have email. Yes, I am that old! We now seem to be suffering from email overwhelm everywhere we turn; at work, on our phones and at home.
Email can be a great timesaver and can help to get things done much more quickly than in the past. You can use it to help you to be organised and get more work done but if you’re not managing your emails properly it can also take up far too much of your time.
A lot of people hate email as it takes up too much time and gets in the way of conversations and ‘living more’! I think it can be a useful tool but, it is just that…a tool. It should help you to get things done, not hinder you.
Managing Your Email – Inbox Zero
I have always worked on the ‘inbox zero’ philosophy. I like to be tidy and need to have the decks clear to get stuff done and that applies to my devices as well as my desk. That doesn’t work for everyone, and in some case may cause more stress than it saves!
If you’re curious as to how it works though, here are some of my tips:
Have everything come into one place
I use gmail for my email account, the paid for version, with all email addresses – whether from my business, personal or from other businesses where I’m an associate with my own email address – coming into one place.
Use Rules / Filters and Folders / Labels
Use the functionality to create rules/filters and folders/labels to help you to get organised. Don’t go too mad and overcomplicate what your email account does but using ways to file and filter your messages can be really helpful.
For example I have a number of websites that I manage and I have alert emails coming from them in relation to security issues via a plugin I use.
Rather than having those emails sitting in my inbox and getting in the way of me reading the more urgent stuff, I have labels set up so that I have a separate ‘folder’ for each website. I then have filters set up that automatically move those emails from my inbox straight into those folders until I’m ready to deal with them.
Whilst I use labels and filters, I also have a tool that I can’t live without. In fact it stopped working a few months ago for a few hours and it made me realise just how helpful it is in keeping my email organised and under control and everything went haywire!
It’s called Sanebox and it works with any email client, service or device (so it says on their website – although it says it doesn’t work with POP account; I get round that by using gmail for everything including POP accounts and Sanebox works with gmail).
The reason I like it so much is that it organises my mail for me without me having to get involved, presenting me with only the most important emails in my inbox and the less important but still fairly important emails in my @SaneLater folder.
Then newsletters and regular emails that aren’t urgent get diverted into my @SaneNews and @SaneBulk folders. Sanebox ‘decides’ which those emails are and you can train it by moving emails into and out of the relevant folders so that it ‘knows’ what to do next time.
There is even an option to ‘train’ the system to send email to the @BlackHole folder as an alternative to ‘unsubscribing’ from them.
Once I’ve had Sanebox organise my email at the top level I then have my own process to enable me to work through my emails quickly and keep my inbox clear.
Read Emails and Act Immediately
If I need to respond immediately or if I can respond with a few words I do that straight away and then file or delete the email.
I have a folder called ‘Respond Today’ where I move any emails that need responding to today but don’t need an immediate reply or where the email may take a little while to compose.
Any emails that are for information and don’t need a response either get deleted or archived once I’ve read them. If they have useful information that I want to keep for reference I either archive the email, if it will eventually become obsolete and it won’t matter if I delete it at some point in the future, or I forward it to Evernote via my device app or using the browser extension.
Any emails that don’t need a response but do require me to do something get forwarded to ‘Todoist‘, which is the tool that I use to manage my to do list and anything that needs adding to my Calendar gets added to that straight away too. If I’m in a real hurry then I might move those ‘action’ emails to my ‘Respond Today’ folder to get them out of my Inbox but to ensure that I deal with them later in the day when I have more time.
Set Specific Times for Checking Your Email
I can’t completely admit to doing this as well as I might. I do batch my email checking when I’m in the office so I don’t keep dipping in and out of it, especially when I’m using my Focus Time app. When I’m out and about, and in need of distraction, I do tend to be a bit more responsive to my email on my phone. I do try to follow the process mentioned above as I go along to keep the emails moving out of my inbox but again that doesn’t always happen when I’m out and about and I sometimes have to have a quick admin moment to sort out my Inbox in a batch!
And I am one of those people who checks email first thing – I like to know what’s on its way today – but that doesn’t mean that I start working on any of it straight away as I try to keep to my morning routine first.
I have a recurring task and reminder in my Todoist at 4pm each day to remind me to respond to the emails that are in the ‘Respond Today’ folder. I used to do this at 6.30am the following day as a first job for the day but I much prefer to spend that time reading and I now like to respond to emails on the same day if at all possible (although that doesn’t always happen!).
Be Free with the Delete Key
With the amount of space that Google lets us have nowadays we don’t have to be quite as good at deleting unwanted emails as in the past, especially when I worked in corporate and we had limited space for our Outlook emails (how many times did I run out of space for more email?!). But I still think it’s good practice to ‘prune’ your email archive regularly.
And I would definitely recommend forwarding specific reference material to something like Evernote (there is a special email link in your account to enable you to do that) so that at such time as you need to start deleting old emails from your email account you know you won’t be deleting important stuff. And the same goes for using a password keeper like ‘LastPass‘ to keep all your login details safe so you’re not relying on having saved the emails.
It’s tempting to save all those cool newsletters with great points and things to learn, but the truth is, you’re not likely to ever read them again. Use your note-taking tool to keep the most important points, and then delete them.
Create Standard / Repeated Replies
If you have to keep repeating yourself in response to emails asking similar questions, work out a way to do that in least time. Gmail has an option called ‘canned responses’ where you can save emails that you regularly have to send to use again. I used to use it but I found that it sometimes loses the saved emails, so wasn’t reliable enough. You can imagine how frustrating that was!
I now use something called ShortKeys that enables me to save snippets of content (including big snippets if necessary!) and add them into my emails by typing ## and then the code for that particular snippet. I use this any time I need to add content into an email that I’ve used before and will use again. It only works with a PC; I use TextExpander on my iPhone and iPad, which also works on a Mac.
And, if you have a business, you could create a FAQ page on your website to try to answer most of the regularly asked questions before they get as far as your email!
Keep It Short and Sweet
Don’t get too carried away with your email content (ok, maybe I should be following my own advice!). Don’t burden other people as well as taking up too much of your own time. Try and stick to a few lines, three or four paragraphs at the most.
I hope you’ve found these ideas and tips useful. What do you do to manage your email. What do you think of Inbox Zero? Would it work for you? Let me know in the comments.