Email is something that needs to be managed well otherwise it can take over and dictate our days. Like most things, sometimes I feel like I'm in control and am managing it pretty well and other times I forget common recommendations and I do get lost in the black e-mail hole! Over the last month I've watched a few webinars on e-mail management and here are some take aways.
There are several decisions you need to make to manage your e-mail effectively. Decide how many e-mails are too many to have in your in-box and decide if you are going to use folders to organize your e-mail.
Definitely explore your e-mail account's capability to use filters/rules to manage your in-box. The goal is to process all of the unnecessary e-mail out of the inbox. For example you can set a filter for all newsletters to go into a newsletter folder. Another folder idea is to set up a filter to move all advertisements to a folder to review at your convenience, only if needed.
A big time saver is process e-mail at designated times during the day. Is twice enough, or do you need to check it four times a day or more? Whatever rule you set for yourself, also determine the amount of time spent at each e-mail check. Set a timer to hold yourself accountable.
Another strategy, if you are concerned about the expectation that you need to respond to e-mail right away, is to set up an auto response to inform people when they can expect to hear back from you. Such as, "...I respond to e-mails daily between 4:00 and 5:30 p.m. If you need immediate attention, please call me."
The productivity guru, David Allan coined a method the Four Ds - Do it; Defer it; Delegate it and Delete it. He recommends using this method when reviewing and managing e-mail.
E-mail at times are other people's to dos - make sure they are truly your to dos.
If you don't want to spend the time processing old e-mail, but are too anxious to delete them, create an "old mail" folder and move all old e-mails over to it. If you find you never access it, maybe after a period of time you may feel comfortable deleting the folder.
April Merritt of iliosdigital.com recommends using the ART system - A - Action; R - Reference and T - Trash to process e-mail. She proposes that all e-mail fall into one of these three categories. She is a proponent of setting up action folders such as Take Action Now, Take Action Next Week, and Take Action Waiting. The tasks for the action can be moved into a task management app or kept in e-mail if you like to manage actions that way. She recommends Trello, Asana, Insightly and Evernote. If you leave your actions in your e-mail - either in folders or in the in-box, make sure you organize the reference into folders and delete the trash e-mails.
It is important to turn off any distracting noise, including e-mail notification sounds as it will hinder productivity. Think how much restraint it takes to not check e-mail when the notifications are on. When notifications aren't turned off it is very hard to not want to check it. Though the fear of missing out (FOMO) usually pertains to social media, I believe it also relates to e-mail.
One of my biggest takeaways is to send the kind of e-mails that you want to receive. Copy and blind-copy others, only if it is necessary. The best way to send e-mail is to have strong subject lines which helps immensely to find e-mails later. Another tip is if you receive an e-mail with a subject that doesn't make sense to you, edit the subject line to your needs so that you can find it later.
I hope you find some of these strategies helpful as you organize and manage your e-mail in-box to suit your needs.