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Do you have an overflowing email inbox? I feel uneasy if I can’t see the bottom of my inbox. It’s a condition I refer to as email claustrophobia.

It’s a fact of life that emails are the main communication tool nowadays and the reality is that we need to get smarter with how we manage emails so that we can focus on the important tasks we need to get done each day.

So how can we stay on top of the email inbox? The average person receives 77 emails a day (source). That’s a lot of email! It’s easy to become overwhelmed by it all, but believe me when I say that you can keep your email inbox under control.

Whatever your experience, expertise or how long you’ve been working in admin, you’ll find some techniques here that you’ll find invaluable – best of all, they’re tips that you can start using today!

This post refers specifically to features in either Microsoft Office Outlook or Gmail (Google’s free email service).

First, you need to declutter your email inbox

Are you ready to get your hands dirty and declutter your inbox? Here are five quick and easy ways guaranteed to get your inbox down to something manageable.

1. Batch process your emails

When you do get around to writing and replying to emails, just get on with it. Head down, tail up. This isn’t the time to pfaff or muck around. Your ultimate goal is to get your inbox down to zero – and you can do it!

2. The one-minute rule

Got an email that can be responded to quickly? Just do it and get it out of the way. For emails that need more thought or action, pop it in a folder called “For action” or turn the email into a task (see further down the page where I expand on this). When writing emails, don’t fill it with fluff; be succinct (but still polite), get to the point and hit the send button.

3. Unsubscribe

Do you subscribe to lots of email mailing lists? I’m willing to bet that you’re not opening at least 75% of the newsletters, alerts and announcements you receive. It’s time to start clicking that unsubscribe button!

If you subscribe to blog or web site updates, perhaps there is another way of receiving notifications e.g. RSS reader, Facebook, Twitter, etc.

If you really don’t want to unsubscribe to all of those mailing lists, start using filters (see the next step) to keep receiving the emails, but not have them clutter your inbox. Gmail users could use a nifty service called unroll.me. unroll.me sniffs out all your newsletter subscriptions and hides them from you the second they hit your inbox and saves them for a daily digest email (disclosure: I use this and it’s brilliant),

4. Use filters and rules

If there are some email services you really want to stay subscribed to “just in case”, consider setting up filters (in Gmail) or rules (in Outlook) to get these emails out of your inbox straight away and into specific folders (a folder called “mailing lists” is a good start). When you have the time and the inclination, you can go back and read those emails.

You can also use filters to automatically sort incoming email based on who it’s from, the subject line, a word used in the body of the email…the options are endless. I have met people who have emails from their manager filtered into a specific folder to make it easier to know when an email has been received from them.

5. Play the Email Game

This is a Gmail-specific, sadly. Go to emailga.me and plug in your email details and have fun! The Email Game only gives you a certain amount of time to deal with each and every email in your inbox. Points are awarded for how quickly you deal with your emails. Strangely addictive, I must admit!

Now you need to establish your new rules of email engagement

So you’ve tamed your inbox (high five!), it’s time to approach your inbox in a new light. No more email clutter for you! You’re going to be a master of your inbox in no time with these eight tips.

6. Stop checking your inbox

Trust me on this one; you don’t need to be checking your inbox every minute of the day. I’ve read theories that you should only check your emails first and last thing in your working day. This might work for you, but I find in my experience that checking emails every couple of hours is a good balance. I know that the idea can be disconcerting, but if someone really wants you urgently, they’ll ring you.

7. Turn off new email notifications

It’s one thing to say to yourself “I’m not checking my inbox again until 11.30”, it’s another to not get tempted when you hear that familiar “ping” from your email program. Turn off new email notifications (both audible and visible) to curb temptation and distraction. Same goes for your smartphone. Turn any audible alerts off so that you don’t find yourself checking emails every time they land in your inbox.

8. Use your email signature to your advantage

Put your contact information at the bottom of each email by using an email signature. Click here for sample email signatures. You can even put your sign-off in your email signature, such as “Kind regards, Mel”, or “Please feel free to contact me if you have any queries, Lisa”. Signatures are editable in each instance, so you can customise for each scenario, but have the basics set up.

Additionally, you can create an email signature that is specifically for replies. Generally, replying to an email doesn’t need your full email signature promoting who you are and what you do. You could set up an additional email signature (in Outlook) or canned response (in Gmail) with a simple “Kind regards, James”. I know that it doesn’t seem like much effort type such a short amount of text, but when you think about the number of emails you receive each day, it will actually make quite a lot of difference!

9. Use additional email signatures to send standard messages

Do you have generic emails that you have to send frequently? It might be “Thanks for sending me your resume, I’ll be in touch if an appropriate opportunity opens up”, or “This is your weekly reminder to send outstanding reports to me by noon Friday”. Set yourself up with multiple email signutures in Outlook or canned responses in Gmail so you can get these emails dealt with quickly. The beauty of using additional signatures (as opposed to automated replies) means that you can still customise the email to suit.

10. Use keyboard shortcuts

Reducing your mouse usage while typing improves your productivity; the best way to combat this is to become familiar with keyboard shortcuts.

Keyboard shortcuts are available in Outlook and Gmail.

11. OHIO: Only Handle It Once

This is an ideal scenario, but in all honesty, I think it’s a tad unrealistic. But it’s still a great methodology to try to achieve! By only handling an email once, you aren’t wasting time with double handling. You have four self-explanatory options with OHIO email:

  1. Delete it
  2. Defer it
  3. Delegate it
  4. Do it

You might recognise these as the “Four D’s” theory as well.

12. Turn emails into tasks

This is my favourite way to get my inbox down to a manageable level; if you have received an email that you need to action or follow up, set it as a task. In Outlook you can do this by simply dragging the email into your tasks; in Gmail you just hit Ctrl+T on your selected email (assuming you have keyboard shortcuts activated, of course). Don’t forget to set a due date for tasks so that they don’t get lost in the ether.

13. Boomerang your email

Boomerang is a free Gmail service or $29.95 for Outlook. It’s such a simple idea that works so well – it takes an email and can “hide” it from your inbox for as long as you need it to. It lands back in your inbox, say, in 2 days’ time as a new email. It’s like setting an email as a task with a reminder attached to it. You can even set a boomerang on an email that you’re sending to pop back in your inbox if no one responds to it within a specific time frame.

Now it’s your turn

What’s your favourite tip for managing your unruly email inbox? I would love to hear your suggestions! You can leave a comment below or drop me a line.

Catch you next time,

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