Do you ever feel your emails are managing you?
For most of us, the answer to that question would be a straight-up HELLS YES! It’s pretty crazy how electronic mail has changed our lives. I got my first email address about 15 years ago, and I remember getting really excited whenever AOL announced “You’ve got mail”.
Back then I checked my email once a week, which was more than enough to keep track of my inbox. In fact, checking it once a month would’ve done the job just as well.
Fast-forward to 2016 and I have five email accounts, and literally check them every few minutes. As someone who hates when people don’t get back to me within a reasonable timeframe (read: five minutes), I of course feel the pressure to lead by example, so spend hours every day trying to organize my inbox in a way that ensures I won’t fall behind on replying to others.
It’s stressful, and the good news for me is that I’m definitely not the only one who feels this way. Psychologist Rowena Browne found that “feeling stressed, overwhelmed and emotionally exhausted” are common side effects of receiving large amounts of emails.
With emails having become such an important means of communication, it’s unlikely for the number of incoming mail to decrease, so instead of fighting it, we must find a way to go back to efficiently managing our inbox. Here are five hacks that will make your life easier.
1. Create folders
Folders are the holy grail of efficient inbox organization. According to Merlin Mann, the founder of 43folders.com (a website dedicated to productivity), you’ll need four folders: an ‘action required’ folder, an ‘awaiting response’ folder, a ‘delegated’ folder and an ‘archived’ folder.
Note that ‘archived’ is not the same as ‘deleted’ – save the latter for spam, newsletters, group emails that don’t concern you, and the like.
2. Stop storing emails in your inbox
Your inbox should be the virtual equivalent of your physical letterbox. You wouldn’t put letters you’ve opened and read back in your letterbox, so you shouldn’t leave emails you’ve already reacted to in your inbox.
Productivity expert Peggy Duncan says, “Your inbox is not storage, it’s not your calendar, it’s not your to-do list, and it’s not your mind tickler. Clean out all that mess and ask yourself how you can organize your inbox in a more useful way”.
If you’ve replied to an email and you know you won’t need to refer to it in the future, delete it. If you think you might need it in the near future, move it to an appropriate folder, such as the ‘awaiting response’ one. When it comes to emails you’d like to keep a little longer, archive them. Following this easy rule means your inbox will never contain more than one day’s worth of messages.
3. Set ‘rules’ for certain emails
Did you know your email provider can automatically direct incoming mail to different folders instead of leaving them to clog up your inbox? By creating what’s known as ‘rules’, your emails will be scanned for certain content and moved accordingly.
For example, you could create a rule that moves all emails from your boss into a folder called ‘important’, or a rule that moves all emails containing the words ‘free trial’ into spam.
4. Turn off notifications
Okay, I know this will need some convincing, but let me explain. If your laptop, tablet or smartphone notifies you every time you receive an email, it’s a constant distraction from what you should be paying attention to: living life. You may think it only takes a few seconds to check an incoming email, but it’s actually less time-consuming and more productive if you stick to set times to check your emails. Checking and replying to emails in your personal inbox once a day is more than enough. You may have to check your work inbox more than once a day, but turning off notifications and only checking it at certain times will improve your productivity at work.
According to a study published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology, ‘an unfortunate limitation of the human mind is that it cannot perform two demanding tasks simultaneously, so flipping back and forth between two different tasks saps cognitive resources’ (read: our constant email checking is seriously slowing us down).
This is the easiest and arguably most effective way to improve email management, yet you’ve probably never done it. Just unsubscribe from your discount/Groupon/store newsletters and anything else you usually don’t even open. You won’t miss out on anything important; instead, you’ll free your inbox (and mind) of a lot of clutter.
Welcome to your new life, in which checking your email doesn’t evoke anxiety attacks. You’re welcome.
Images via speakgif.com and giphy.com.
Comment: How long can you go without checking your email? Does your boss expect you to be available on it 24 hours a day?