Wherever you go, whatever you do, your email is there, waiting for you. Taunting you with unread emails and gnawing at your conscience with unanswered ones. Before you dive into your inbox and try to deal with it all, take a moment to think about how you’re spending your time when it comes to email. A little common sense can help you be more productive with your time and stop email from taking over your day.
Use the power of your email client to stay in control – don’t let it control you. Here’s how:
The first thing to realise is that email shouldn’t take up your entire day. Set aside a time to take care of email and stick to it; perhaps an hour in the morning and 15 minutes later in the day. It’ll help you stay away from compulsively checking it. You should also prioritise your email answering. Which emails are important and which ones can go unanswered. Once you’re done…
Learn when to walk away
It sounds simple, but you can do without your email for extended periods throughout your workday. By setting aside specific times when you check your email, you can free yourself from distractions and focus on more productive work. When it’s not designated email time, close your email client and get on with other, more important stuff.
At the very least, turn off pop-up notifications that warn you when you have a new email. This function seems like a helpful tool, but in reality every notification steals your attention away from more focused work.
Auto-reply, it’s more than just for out-of-office
All email clients have an auto-reply function. Mostly they’re used to notify senders that you’re out of the office. But you can use it as a way to tell people that you’re busy. Set up your auto-reply to tell people that you’re unavailable through email until your scheduled email times, if they really need to get hold of you, they can call, or even stop by your desk.
Avoid the embarrassment of “Reply all”
You know that feeling you get in the pit of your stomach when you hit “Reply all” instead of replying to one person on a large email list? Say goodbye to that feeling forever.
You can set up an alert in your email client to notify you when you’re replying to everyone, giving you a chance to reconsider your spamming everyone on a list. In Outlook 2010, it’s called “MailTips,” but other clients will have similar features.
It’s also important to use “Reply all” sparingly. Only use the function if all email recipients absolutely need to be updated. If not, you’re simply wasting their time. After all, think about all the pointless emails you could avoid having in your inbox if your contacts were more scrupulous.
When in doubt, delete and take care of your trash
Stop your inbox from becoming bloated. Delete everything that’s not crucial. It’ll will save you time and stop your inbox from becoming bloated and slow.
But deleting emails doesn’t mean they’re gone forever. You may realize that something you deleted was important, but it’s still there until you empty your trash. Set up your trash folder to empty manually, so you don’t automatically lose everything, but make sure to empty it at the end of the day.
Automate repetitive tasks
Do you do a lot of the same things over and over with emails? Like frequently move messages to a specific folder that you’ve set up? Or often forward messages to your team? New automation features in modern email clients can apply multiple actions to emails all at once. Check your specific client if it’s available for you.
If you’ve taken control of your email, you should also respect other people’s inbox. Do you really need to send this email? Perhaps it’s better to schedule a meeting or pick up the phone? Categorise your mails with your subject lines, by stating, for example, “action required” or “for your information.” This will help your colleagues and peers make better use of their email as well.
Rule your email, don’t let it rule you
Don’t let email rule your work-life. A combination of common sense and smart use of your email client will let you decide how, when and how often you’re taking care of email. The above suggestions assume that your work is not about being constantly available and reactive, but a good portion of us can apply one or all of these tips and find that their inbox and email remain a tool to love and not to hate.