Email Management 101
Effective email management may not be at the top of your 2020 goals list - but it should make the list, especially if…
You dread opening your inbox every morning.
You leave your workday with more unread emails than when you arrived.
You feel the need to check email when you’re not working, on vacation, taking a lunch break, or spending time with family.
Managing email effectively helps you stay organized, feel confident and get more accomplished. These 5 tips for email management, if done consistently, will change the way your inbox makes you feel. It’s not all about feelings. Productivity and motivation are also factors here. However, how your inbox makes you feel may play a role in how productive (or unproductive) your workday is.
Tip #1: Click “unsubscribe” more than you click “subscribe.”
We spend too much time sifting through emails that don’t need to be in our inboxes to begin with! If you are subscribed to a company / newsletter / etc. and you open those emails less than 50% of the time, unsubscribe. You may be receiving emails from a great company or a non-profit doing amazing work. But, if you don’t read the emails, you’re just adding one (or one hundred) more email(s) you’ve got to click on and delete, and you’re not getting enough value from the content to make it worth your time. Don’t feel bad about unsubscribing from good causes! You can’t read everything. You can’t set that unreasonable expectation for yourself. Your future email-checking self will thank you if you take the time to refine what hits your inbox.
Side Note: If you’re subscribed to Groupon… I’m sorry. I once worked with a small business owner who accumulated 500+ emails from Groupon alone in less than a year. It’s a lot easier to never subscribe than to retroactively unsubscribe from each email marketing division they signed you up for. Pro Tip: Proceed with caution when giving out your email address! I once heard it said that your email address is worth an average of $20 to a company. If you wouldn’t hand that company a $20 bill when you give them your email address, don’t subscribe.
Tip #2: Adhere to the 2-minute / “OHIO” Rule.
If you can read an email and handle it within two minutes, do it - regardless of that email’s priority level. By the time you (1) read the subject line, (2) scan the email contents, and (3) have the thought, “Well, this isn't the first priority, I should probably just leave this here and take care of something more urgent,” … you could’ve taken care of that and marked it off the list! So, try to Only Handle It Once (OHIO).
This tip will be overwhelming if your inbox has 500 unread messages. You need to do a ONE TIME clean out and get your inbox down to 25 emails or less before this becomes a sustainable practice. The reason I say to do a ONE TIME cleanout is because many of us let our inboxes get out of control and, periodically, do a cleanout to make ourselves feel better. What we’re going for is a ONE TIME cleanout, followed by the creation of sustainable practices that keep your inbox under control on a weekly basis (not just the day after you clean it out).
Why does this matter? Well, we know that having a clear inbox precedes a clearer mind. It keeps us feeling clutter-free, less overwhelmed, and more confident that we’re “on top of things.” Rather than only getting to experience that feeling periodically when you do a cleanout, it is possible for you to feel that every day when you leave work. The confidence you can feel from this, combined with the fact that you’re able to focus more easily on the tasks in front of you, can lead to greater productivity.
According to The Radicati Group Inc. study on email statistics, the average business email account user sends/receives a total of 126 emails per day. With this many emails being processed daily, management isn’t optional - it’s necessary.
Tip #3: Create Folder Rules
Do you receive automated emails that you need to keep, but don’t necessarily need to read when they hit your inbox? You can set rules to send emails directly into a folder so that they bypass your inbox completely. Here’s an example. Let’s say that you receive an email every time someone pays an invoice to your company. You may need to review those emails at the end of the month when you’re closing out your financials - but you don’t necessarily need to see that email as soon as it’s received. Rather than manually filing away those automated emails all the time, set up a rule that any email coming from a certain email address will automatically go to your “Month End” email folder.
Then, at the end of the month, you can go to that folder to review everything at once.
Note of Caution: Do NOT create folder rules for emails that have action items attached to them. Anything with a “to do” attached to it needs to come to your inbox first. Eventually, once you clean out your inbox (for the last time… :) ) your inbox should just be a running list of “to do’s” only. Creating folder rules can be dangerous if you’re sending emails with action items to a folder you may forget to check. Use rules wisely!
Tip #4: Organize your Folder Structure
I’ve seen two ends of the spectrum when it comes to folder structure. Some of my clients have NO folder structure (all emails stay in their inbox all the time). Some have too many folders, to the point that the “system” they’ve set up for themselves is not sustainable or practical. You want to structure your folders somewhere in between these extremes: organized, yet functional and sustainable.
For example, if you receive an email twice per year from your website host, you don’t need to have a folder for that. I have an email folder called “Accounts” that includes emails from Gmail, Wix (my website host), and other accounts I have that don’t send me emails frequently enough to warrant having separate folders for each.
If a folder will have less than 50 emails in it over the next 2 years, combine it with another folder. If you have 25 folders, you may not be able to easily identify where an email needs to go. So guess where that email will hang out in the meantime? Your inbox. Make your folder structure comprehensive enough that you know exactly where every email in your inbox can be stored, but broad enough that you don’t have to scroll through miles and miles of folders to find the one that applies to the email you’re filing. If you need help doing this, send us a message.
Tip #5: Follow the “One-Week Delete” Rule
Tip #1 suggested that you unsubscribe from subscriptions you don’t open at least 50% of the time. What about the emails you decide to stay subscribed to? How long do you leave them in your inbox? ONE WEEK. You may have really good intentions to read a newsletter from someone “when you get a chance.” But, if that newsletter sits there for one week and you haven’t read it, delete it. Because guess what you’re going to get next week? More newsletters. You won’t like doing this at first. You’re training your brain. You’re teaching yourself that it’s now or never. Read this now, or get rid of it. If it’s not important enough to read now (or today or this week), you don’t need it. It’s okay to delete it. And if you find yourself deleting more than reading, go back to tip #1 and unsubscribe.
Bottom Line: Better email management leads to better results.
If you do your LAST (key word… LAST) email cleanout, follow these five tips consistently, and see how your mindset changes toward your inbox. If you do these things and STILL have an overflowing email inbox, you probably have too many responsibilities. It may be time to delegate. Shameless plug: If it’s time to delegate your financial, marketing, recruiting, or operational tasks, send us a message. We can get these messages out of your inbox but, more importantly, free you up to focus on your talents. If you implement the tips above, let us know how they’ve positively impacted your workflow!