Time Management - Managing Your Email Inbox

Do you get swamped by emails and find yourself spending more time looking for things and working on things? In this post, we look at some tips for managing your email inbox.
Time Management - Managing Your Email Inbox
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Why Manage Your Inbox

If you use a programme such as Microsoft Outlook, these can be great tools to help manage your time more effectively. If not managed correctly, you might find yourself spending more time looking for things rather than getting things done. The subject of managing emails and been swamped by the number of emails we receive comes up in pretty much every time management course that we deliver.

Managing Your Email Inbox

Here are some top tips to get the best from outlook:

  • Don't just skim your inbox - process it. Each time you click on an email, do something with it. Processing email is one of the most effective ways to stay on top of things. If you click an email, then reply, delete or file it.
  • Don't use your inbox as a to-do list. Get emails out of your inbox and onto your actual to-do list. If you keep tasks in different places, then you can quickly become confused.
  • Aim for inbox zero. This doesn't mean you need to deal with all of your emails. It means that you should keep your inbox empty. Creating an archive or storage folder and put everything in there for now. It means that as new emails come in, you can see what you have to deal with.
  • Use the search function. In the most recent versions of outlook and other email programmes, indexing has become much better. It means the search function works much more efficiently. Get into the habit of using the search function rather than trawling through your emails to find the one you are looking for.
  • Use fewer folders. Linked to the point above. Using fewer folders and more of the search function. 3 or 4 folders should be enough. If you don't use the tip about the four-box model below, then use something like an Action folder and an Archive folder. Anything you need to do goes in the Action folder. Anything you're done with goes in the Archive folder. Then, use the search function when you need to find something.
  • Have a clearout. Don't horde emails. If you haven't opened it in the past six months, delete it.
  • Check to see what distribution lists you are a member of.  If you don't feel as though you need to be on it, remove yourself from it.  This will stop your email box from getting clogged up and you spending times trying to figure out which emails are important and which ones are not.  If you can't remove yourself from them, see point 2.
  • Create rules for emails.  Rules allow you to tell your email programme what to do with emails when they arrive.  For example, if an email is sent from a certain person, you can automatically have it sent to a folder.  Similarly, you can do the same if the email was sent to a specific address or if the email title contains certain words.  See the Microsoft website for instructions of how to do this.
  • Arrange your mail in folders based on the Cover Urgent Important matrix.  Create four folders and title them BOX 1, BOX 2, BOX 3, and BOX 4.  As you skim through the emails you have received consider which box they fall into.  Put all Urgent/Important emails into Box 1, All Urgent but Not Important emails into Box 2, Put all Urgent but Not Important mails into Box 3 and all Not Urgent and Not Important emails into box 4.  We are in the process of writing an article about the Covey Model, which will be on the site soon.
  • If a message needs action, flag it.  You can add a flag to a message in outlook by clicking on the flag silhouette at the end of the title.  Adding a flag adds the mail to your to-do/task list, meaning you can review them all together.
  • Change the Channel. If an email has been bouncing backwards and forwards between lots of people and you are the last to receive it, make a habit of picking up the phone to talk to the last person or original sender.  It can take ages to read through all of the threads, and you might miss something.
  • Try and create clear titles and influence others to do the same.  Use rules such as starting your email title with things such as FOR INFORMATION ONLY: or IMMEDIATE ACTION REQUIRED: Give the reader the importance and urgency behind the email before they even have to open it and read it.

Time Management Training Course

If you would like more help with managing your inbox and other useful time management tools and tips, then take a look at our Time Management Training Course for more like this.

David Lumley18-02-2012

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