Three steps to regaining control of your inbox

My email inbox used to be pretty simple. These days? Not so much.

I spent most of a Saturday digging out from under a couple hundred emails that needed my attention. Feeling overwhelmed and exhausted, I determined I need a better strategy. The following steps will (hopefully) help us all gain control over that time-sucking void that is our email inbox.

1. Unsubscribe
It happens to us all. While seeking the best deals, we inadvertently sign up for a slew of emails. Most of the time it’s easy to just delete them and go on, but every now and then (like spring/fall cleaning for your inbox) it’s best to take the time to click “unsubscribe” on those robot mailings. It’s kind of like your closet… fashion mavens say we should clear out anything we haven’t worn in a year. Perhaps the same is true of our inboxes: those things we consistently delete without opening should be permanently unsubscribed to.

2. Stars, Folders, and Highlights
When you’re rushing through your email, you need a way to sort things in order of importance. Depending on which email software you use, sorting might involve “starring” important messages, “highlighting” particular subjects or recipients, or simply moving emails into a folder for later review. Yes, you WANT to read so-and-so’s blog post, but you don’t have time right now… move that email into a “TBR” (To Be Read) folder. OR, save the link to Evernote or another reader. Sorting is a step toward organization!

3. You Only Click Once
Years ago, before the Internet and before email, I worked with a former CPA. She was the accounts receivable manager for the newspaper I was working for at the time. Her desk was always—ALWAYS—tidy. Mine (I was the production manager) was always a disaster. So I asked her how she kept her desk so clean. Her response: Whatever you pick up you don’t put it down again unless you’re putting it away in its proper location. It’s a rule that works.

Electronic communications have changed the way we interact with each other. On the plus side, I don’t have to wait a week or ten days to send a letter and get an answer. On the downside, I’m inundated with emails that demand a response, RIGHT NOW. And replying is not always convenient. So how can we apply the “only click once” rule to our electronic communication?

A, If you know you can’t respond right away, don’t open it. Conversely, if you’ve opened it already and realized you can’t respond now, mark it unread. The next time you open your email you’ll be prompted to respond.
B. Use your email program to ID important messages and set aside a specific amount of time each day or each week, to respond to those messages.

How do you manage your inbox?

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