Delete. Archive. Respond. Ignore. Oh, the joys of processing email. We all do it every day, choosing with lightning speed which messages are important enough to retain, which ones need an immediate response, and which ones should be summarily dismissed like a blind date gone awry. Even the most seasoned email gurus (they do exist, really) can learn a few more tricks. Here are a few to try when you log in the next time.
1. Read an email once, then act on it
One of the best ways to manage email is to deal with an incoming missive on the spot. Here's why. When you "touch" the email, that takes time. When you label it or archive it, that also takes time. Later, when you search for it, that takes more time. It's better to deal with the message once and then get back to your other work. It's much faster.
2. Forward your emails more often
There's a tendency to be a little gun-shy about forwarding emails instead of dealing with them on our own. After all, we're paid to deal with the messages we receive, right? Well, not always. If a message arrives that is not really your concern, find the person who should deal with it and forward the message on. It's out of your inbox and out of your purview. If there's no response, it's also not your fault.
3. Search like crazy
One of the keys to getting control of your inbox is learning how to search. This is more than just typing in a name or a subject. In Gmail, you can search by date range and label, and even find emails you sent to yourself (e.g., to:me from:me). Mastering the art of email searches will go a long, long way in reducing inbox clutter.
4. Get colorful
The human brain responds to color. When we see green, it means act. When we see red, it means caution. Most email apps on the Web and those that run in Windows let you add a colored flag to your messages, but it's easy to forget to use them. If you develop a habit of color-coding important messages (or even flagging the ones that are not as important), you can work with more fluidity during the day ... and manage all of the extra fluff.
5. Avoid personal folders
Dropping messages into personal folders is a dated practice from a long-ago era (with apologies to Bill Gates). At one time, it was the only way to organize your inbox. Dragging those messages to a folder takes time and it encourages too much nit-picky organization of pointless messages that deserve to be eradicated. I use labels for important emails but otherwise rely almost entirely on searching.