How to Gain Control Over Your Email

How to Gain Control Over Your Email

Do you feel like email has taken control of your day? Maybe you find it impossible not to check your phone when you hear that ding that means you’ve received an email. Or maybe you check your email at midnight, only to stew over an appropriate response rather than resting.

It’s no surprise, really, if you feel like email takes up a lot of your time; according to a report from the McKinsey Global Institute, workers spend a whopping 28 percent of their week reading and responding to emails. If you’re finding email overwhelming, here are a few easy to implement strategies that can help you gain control over an overflowing inbox.

Take Action on Emails Quickly: File, Delete, or Respond

Aim to move emails out of your inbox as much as possible, and as speedily as you can. For many, inbox zero — or, an inbox that is empty of all emails — is the gold standard. Others prefer to use the inbox to store follow-up emails, filing them away when they’re resolved. Whatever your preference, try to triage your inbox by sorting emails into the following three buckets:

  1. Requires no action: When emails require no response, as with newsletters, automated reports, alerts, or spam, either delete or file the email.
  2. Requires a quick response: If it will only take you two minutes to respond to an email, just write your response quickly, and then file the email in the appropriate folder. While a well-written email is always a good thing, so too is a quick response.
  3. Requires more follow-up: Some emails require more time. Perhaps they’re part of a bigger project, require input from others, or simply need a long, thoughtful response. Depending on your preference, you can either file them in a “to-do” folder, leave them in your inbox, or flag them in another way.

Keeping the number of emails in your inbox low, and having a system for dealing with emails as they hit your inbox, helps make checking your email feel productive, rather than overwhelming.

Choose When to Focus on Email

With alerts popping up on your computer screen, and sounding from your smart phone, it’s easy to fall into a responsive role with email, reacting to these alerts by pausing other tasks to deal with incoming mail. While it’s good to respond to emails quickly, that level of responsiveness can make getting other work done challenging. Try instead to set a schedule for when tackle emails.

Some workplaces have set or informal guidelines governing how speedily emails responses are required — I’ve worked for companies with a “respond in 24-hours” expectation, and also for companies where the expectation was a response with an hour or two of receiving an email. Set your own rules based on where you work, and the general timeliness of the emails you receive.Author and productivity expert Tim Ferriss advocates for checking email just twice a day. Many people find their mornings are more productive when they skip checking email early in the day. You can try schedule set check-ins for emails, or allocate 15 minutes of each hour of the workday for email.

Whatever you decide, it’s worth considering removing automated alerts about new emails from your computer, tablet, or phone, since they can easily shift your attention away from what you’re working on, and displace any rules you’ve established about dealing with email. An alternate option is to simply turn off your email during the times when you want to focus on other projects.

Reduce Time Spent on Read-and-Delete Emails

Do you receive emails with deals from stores you shopped at once? Newsletters that you nearly always delete without reading? Automated work alert emails?

Consider unsubscribing, or, if you think you’ll occasionally want or need to review these emails, set up rules and filters, so that the emails skip your inbox, and go directly to a file. Then, on quiet afternoons, you can spend a few minutes quickly scanning through the folder. Anything you can do to reduce the overall volume of emails within your inbox, and to reduce the amount of decisions you have to make about your emails, is helpful from a time-management perspective.

Think Before You Send

The world is drowning in email. Do your best not to add to the pile — think before you send an email. Does everyone you have CC’ed need to be included? Will your response be quickly deleted by the recipient? Err on the side of not sending, and CC only the essential people whenever possible.

Consider as well if email is the best format for communication. It may seem old fashioned, but it’s sometimes faster and more effective to pick up the phone or walk over to a co-workers desk. In some cases, doing this can eliminate an avalanche of responses and follow-ups.

Proofread Before You Send
Before you send your email messages, take a second or two to use Grammarly’s quick, simple and free online proofreading tool.

Suggested Reading: Best Tips for Writing Emails That Get Read