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Get Your Email Under Control: 5 Tips

Email is like laundry -- it's never really done. Here's how to keep it under control without stressing out.
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I have more than 1,000 messages in my email inbox. There. I said it.

I’m not proud of this, but with several hundred messages coming in each day, I’m happy if I can pick out and respond to the most urgent or important. I delegate and delete as much as I can, but messages seem to scroll off the main page within an hour as new ones dump in.

It’s like laundry. It’s never totally done for long, so I just don’t stress over it. I focus on anything timely or important, and close the laundry room door until I have time to tackle the bigger pile later.

On the other hand, my sister Lori breaks out in hives if she has more than a dozen messages in her inbox. She manages more than 1,000 consultants and is fanatically disciplined about filing, responding, coding, tagging, acting and deleting as she goes.

I know the drill. Touch each message only once. Don’t use your inbox as a to-do list or storage system. Block out time to do nothing but email. Use filters and folders. Ah, if only it were so easy!

Here are five tips I’m using to manage my daily battle with Gmail.

1. Out of sight, out of mind. I no longer keep email open on my computer all day. Shocker, right? But nothing breaks up productivity like seeing new messages -- or laundry -- piling up. Close the door!

2. Move it or lose it. Since I’m not a neurosurgeon, and people won’t likely die if I miss a message, I’ve recently become much more aggressive about deleting and delegating. Business owners shouldn’t handle everything, and yet we’re the top name on the website for anyone who wants anything. My staff and clients know if they need to reach me immediately, I’m a cell phone call or text away.

3. “Micro” time-blocking. While time-blocking works for some, scheduling workday hours to clear out old email messages is mission impossible for me. Instead, I use my iPad or iPhone to ruthlessly delete older messages while waiting to meet a friend or pick up a kid, sitting at the DMV, or getting my hair dyed. Those itty-bitty (sometimes not so itty bitty!) windows of time add up and the small keyboard helps me keep my replies succinct.

4. Copy/Paste. This is tough for me, as I really pride myself on making people feel special. Still, the sheer volume of requests I receive for career or business advice is overwhelming. I took a tip from Guy Kawasaki and created several thoughtful messages for common requests and saved them in my Drafts folder. Now I just copy/paste and quickly customize them on-the-fly for a prompt and personal reply.

5. Think outside the inbox. Shopping sites, newsletters, promo lists and news digests can be read through less inbox-clogging apps like Facebook and news aggregators like Google Reader and Flipboard. Reading these messages outside the inbox keeps my email time focused on business-related issues and helps keep distractions to a minimum. Unsubscribe from 10 email subscriptions today and get the social media version instead, which can be read in your “social” time.

There are lots of tools to help you be even more organized, such as the free Boomerang add-on for Gmail for delayed sending and notification of unanswered messages. Outlook users can reference these 50 most popular tips and tricks. You’ll need to figure out what works best for your email style.

Remember, reading email messages shouldn’t be a job in itself. Email is a communication tool. Stop the spin cycle and try some new techniques for keeping your inbox deluge under control.

Last updated: Jul 25, 2012

RENE SHIMADA SIEGEL is founder and president of High Tech Connect, a unique consulting partner for expert marketing and communications. After a successful career in Silicon Valley, she founded her company 15 years ago while juggling three kids under the age of five.
@renesiegel




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