7 Tips for Taming Your Inbox

blog-email-testI am not sure about you, but when I have email that I have not processed in a timely manner it feels like a huge weight around my neck. Unprocessed email causes me stress, anxiety and sleepless nights worrying about what is in my inbox that I am not attending to. Does this sound familiar?

What is email? Webster defines this as “messages that are sent electronically from one computer to another.” It sounds pretty benign, doesn’t it?  Even kind of fun — getting and receiving… just like Christmas.  Ha!

Nothing shatters our illusion of balancing work and life quite like the state of panic that comes with feeling that you are buried under a pile of email messages. It’s a stress-producing product of our modern age.

The problem with email is that too many people are trying to communicate with you since it is such a cheap and easy way to do so. This creates mental clutter in your mind and physical clutter on your computer desktop. This clutter is a bunch of loose ends — each email is a loose end hanging out there in cyberspace waiting for your response.

And, if we are honest about it, we contribute to piles of email in other people’s inboxes, too. All of these little innocent-looking pieces of clutter create physical and mental energy drains as your attention bounces around from one person’s communication and train of thought to the next. Too many email messages can steal time away from your other projects and can create chaos, both in your inbox and in your mind.

There are a few tricks to tame your inbox. Here are seven of my favorites:

  1. Email is not a substitute for actually meeting with people. Schedule a meeting!
  2. Respond today to the emails you received in your inbox yesterday(not immediately as they enter your inbox). Decide that you will not respond to emails until the following day. This will slow down your temptation to watch your inbox.  This also gives you a bit of breathing space and allows you to focus your attention on project completion rather than answering email. Don’t worry; most people are not critical of one-day delays in email replies. If something needs to be handled quickly, the person who needs it should call you.
  3. When you respond the next day, reply to people quickly but respectfully by: Reading the email and Responding with:
    • A greeting
    • Less than five sentences; Three lines are optimal
    • A cordial closing
    • Finish by placing the new item on your calendar or a new “to do” in your task management system.
  4. Use only one topic in the subject line. When the topic changes, change the subject line, too. Send separate emails for separate topics or separate questions. Your emails will feel less overwhelming to the recipient and will be easier to search later.
  5. One of my favorite tricks is to indicate the action requested in the subject line.  This will help the email recipient understand what you need before they read the email. For example, a subject line of “Conference Meeting- question” lets the reader know that there is a question about the conference meeting that you will be holding.  This simple step really helps the other person act upon what you are asking for.
  6. Use your “Out of Office” reply tool so people do not expect responses while you are away. In my auto-responder I thank the sender for their inquiry; tell them how long I will be gone; and suggest that if they need immediate assistance that they can reach me on my mobile phone number, which I include. This works well for me and the people who are trying to reach me.
  7. My very favorite tip is to NOT respond if I am only on the CC line. I avoid jamming up anyone else’s email inbox by NOT selecting “Reply All”. Does everyone on the list really need to see that you’ve said “Thanks” to the sender?

Taming your inbox and getting dangling issues under control is crucial for your sense of accomplishment, well-being and stress reduction.

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