The more emails I have in my inbox that remain unanswered, the more stressed I feel – it’s a direct and unwavering correlation. So what can we do to manage this? And how can we edge ourselves even closer to the inbox nirvana of ‘No Messages Selected‘? Here’s what I’d suggest…
WHAT TO DO IF… You have thousands of unread and un-filed emails: Delete all. There’s only one thing to do here and that is to select all and press the delete button. You need a fresh start, a fresh slate and a zero emails in your inbox. If you’re wary of deleting something that you shouldn’t, then spend the next week or month flagging emails that you refer back to often, that are useful to you in your working or home life and then save these from the cull and slot them into categories that make sense to you. Next time an email comes in, either reply to it ASAP to bat it out of your immediate inbox, leave it there if it’s something you need to action and file it away when you have completed whatever that is, or delete it. No looking back.
WHAT TO DO IF… You’re finding your emails a constant distraction: Set to push. I’d recommend doing this step whatever route you decide to take with your inbox, but by setting your emails to fetch whenever you open the app, instead of retrieving messages all day long, will help to compartmentalize the task. I set my mobile to battery-saving mode during the week and that means that I need to refresh my inbox manually whenever I open the app in order to see what’s new in there.
WHAT TO DO IF… You feel like your inbox is becoming overwhelming: Use the ‘Three Times a Day’ rule. Once you’ve set your inbox to only retrieve messages when you tell it to, you can go one step further and set yourself a timetable of when in your day it’s best to do that. You check your inbox once in the morning and reply to anything that has come in the previous evening or overnight, then once around lunchtime to do a tidy-up of any urgent morning messages, then do one final check just before you clock off for the day to reply to whatever is left.
WHAT TO DO IF… You feel like you’re spending your entire day replying to emails: Have a designated reply time. Some only answer emails on a Monday, Wednesday and Friday… Or just twice a week.. Or even at 9am every morning. Whatever their designated reply time rules are, they put it in their email signatures and have an automatic reply – a bit like an out-of-office – that lets people in on this and so they know when to expect a reply. Often there will also be a number to call if you need to find something out more urgently. I think this is a win-win for everyone. Those who set these sorts of rules for themselves do so in order to ease the stress of dealing with their inboxes and to free up more time for other endeavours; and those on the receiving end are kept in the loop and so won’t get angsty when a reply takes longer than expected.
WHAT TO DO IF… If it’s just not feasible for you to get your inbox down to zero before the end of the working day: Set yourself your own goal. A lot of us use our inbox as a to-do list of sorts; keeping emails in there until they have been actioned, or followed-up or the piece of work that you’re prepping sent over. That’s how I use it too. Nothing gets filed away until I’ve done whatever those emails required me to do. So actually getting my inbox to zero every evening before I clock off is something that is completely achievable for me some days, but a complete pipe dream on others. And that’s ok. So I’d suggest having a number by which you use as a measuring stick for how out of control your inbox is. This number will be different for everyone. Experiment, find your number and make that your goal.