We all love email as a communication tool. But we all hate email when we reach inbox overload.
So how do we find a happy medium? Here are 10 tips I think can help.
You are the master of your inbox
The quickest way to find yourself facing a deluge of emails is if you let your emails control you so remember you don't need to hit reply as soon as a message is received. Email is not instant messaging. It wasn't made to have a continuous two-way chat. Email is about getting things done and you can't ever get things done if you are constantly sending and receiving emails back and forth to everyone who emails you.
Shut down conversations
If you find yourself in an on-going email dialogue, have a technique to close it off politely. Take time to consider your reply so you don't leave questions open, answers misread or statements misunderstood and open to even more questions. You'll soon realise no-one, especially you, wants to engage in an endless email trail that leads nowhere.
Use folders to file crucial messages
These are so often underused or badly used. Your inbox is far more powerful than you know. It is not just for a full-on stream of incoming messages and replies. Filing emails sensibly can ensure your eye is focused on only the emails that need to be actioned. But don't drag everything into them. If you aren't 100% sure you'll need that message again, hit delete.
Use categories to save you time and energy
Organise your emails around people and projects rather than date can save you hours of time. This ensures the most important information is where you need it - at the top of your inbox. This method will also ensure you aren't being reactive to every email that comes in, instead you're keeping on top of the most important messages.
We all sign up to email newsletters on a whim. Then we wonder why each day we receive more automated messages from distribution lists than from friends, contacts and colleagues. So next time you skip past a newsletter in your inbox, unsubscribe from it. If you can't be bothered to read it then, chances are you never will again. We hang on to these 'just in case something interesting arrives'. Usually it won't and you'll skip the messages time after time.
You don't need seven email addresses
It's hard enough maintaining an uncluttered inbox for just one email address, let alone three, five or seven. Having one personal email address and one work-related email address suffices. Use folders, filters and sub addresses instead, where someone can email you on an adapted address using a word and a full stop before your main email.
It's not how many emails you have in your inbox but how you manage the ones you have in there that matters. Most of us will never reach that fabled inbox zero, if that's you then it's far better to do a monthly clean up - if you haven't read something after that period you probably never will.
Avoid email late at night or early morning
We've all got better things to do than to become a slave to our inbox. Many experts class it as an addiction to be so in desperate need to check your messages before bed and as soon as you wake up. It will only impact on your sleep, your senses and your overall ability to have email work for you and not you work for it. Work out a time in your scheduled that is dedicated to email and stick to it.
Traditionally, your email inbox is only sorted by date and time an email is sent, and only more recently grouped by conversation. Try sorting your email by person - you'll soon see how much time you save by easily being able to identify when you receive emails from the most important people.
Take advantage of new technology
There is another way. A new way. A more intelligent way to do email. My company 4th Office has been developing artificial intelligence for your inbox. It takes a different approach by learning how you use it and then it organises for you. Our AI assistant doesn't replace you but works with you to make your relationship with email healthier, more constructive and ultimately more positive. There are tools out there providing a better way of managing your email... Try them out and you will find something that works for you.