Four Tips for Tackling Your Inbox

If you have limited time each day to grow your business, you probably want to streamline as many tasks as you can. But email seems to be one of the hardest to reduce and organize. You might be at “inbox zero” now, but tomorrow you could wake up with 50 new emails demanding your attention.

When I first began writing, I had very limited time to work. Some days, I could only spend an hour on my business. But my email inbox was completely out of control.

I would tell myself that I was going to sit down and tackle emails and then get to work. An hour later, I was still buried in email and hadn’t made any progress with my business.

Today, I have a system for prioritizing and getting through email as quickly as possible. Just like all time management and organizational systems, you’ll probably want to tweak my advice to work for you. However, I know you’ll find some value in these four tips:

1. Create folders or filters.

Depending on your email client, they might be called “folders” or “filters.” But either way, they are the fastest way to organize your inbox by priority and start to tackle the most important things first.

Don’t worry if your inbox is completely out of hand now. You can quickly turn it around by developing a system and spending a few hours implementing it.

My folders are “Reply To,” “Task-ASAP,” “Task,” and “Read-Later.”

“Reply To” is for emails that need a response. If it’s something I can answer in just a few minutes, I usually go ahead and answer it. If it’s something that requires more time, I wait until later in the day when I sit down and reply to all my emails in that folder.

“Task-ASAP” is for emails that need an action as soon as possible. I will usually tackle this folder at least once a day to complete all the tasks. However, it never has more than a few items. Also, most of these tasks are quick, under 15 minutes. If it’s something that will take longer, it gets added to my to-do list and scheduled.

The “Task” filter is for emails that need action but not right away. I usually tackle these about once a week. These tasks are also less than 15 minutes long. Anything longer gets added to the to-do list.

“Read-Later” is for anything I want to read. But if I stopped to read every newsletter as it came in, I’d never get anything else done. I file all these away and then spend an hour or so on the weekend reading them all at once.

2. No instant email alerts!

Email is addictive. I’ve turned off email alerts because no matter what was going on, the ding would distract me and I’d want to see what was waiting in my inbox. Even without the alerts, I find myself constantly trying to switch over to my email tab to see if I have anything new.

Studies prove that receiving an email actually causes a positive chemical reaction in our brains, making it more addictive.

To overcome this, I try to only check email three times per day: right after I eat the frog (or tackle my most “unpleasant” task for the day), after lunch, and about 30 minutes before I quit work for the day. I still slip up, but I’m getting better.

3. Batch email.

When I check emails, I immediately scan and/or delete those that don’t fall into one of these categories. The rest of the emails get filtered into one of the above folders and then I handle them all at once, otherwise known as “batching.”

During each email check, I go through my inbox as quickly as possible, sorting each email into one of the four folders above.

4. Reduce incoming email.

One way I reduced time spent checking email was to cut back on the email I received. I unsubscribed from a lot of newsletters. And I use a filtering system to automatically file newsletters I want to have but not read often.

The only newsletters that come to my inbox are ones directly related to my career and/or niche and emails that are inspirational or inspiring. The rest I unsubscribed from or filtered directly into the “Read-Later” folder.

After implementing these tips, email takes up minutes per day – instead of hours.

How about you? What tips do you have for managing email?

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Published: December 20, 2012

2 Responses to “Four Tips for Tackling Your Inbox”

  1. I've used MailWasher Pro for years and it helps reduce clutter. The program runs outside of my email client (Outlook) and downloads the headers of my emails periodically (I have it set to every 30 minutes).

    It highlights known spam, learns from your input and allow you to delete unwanted mail from the server before it ever reaches your inbox.

    It also does some heuristic virus checking and warns you about it.

    Not free, but inexpensive and 1 license can be used on 3 computers.

    Steve Maurer

  2. Hi Christina, thank you for this article it is a wonderful idea. i am going to get right to my emails and put them in order. in boxes great idea. thank you


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