Email is supposed to make things easier, give you the information you need quickly, but often the sheer volume of emails can mean you miss that important notice. No wonder some people get stressed by their inbox, passing over important emails in favour of the latest one to insistently tell you it’s arrived.
So here are my simple rules for email harmony.
1 Turn off new mail notices
You may think it is better to know immediately when a new message arrives but just think about the disruption to your work. Your inbox ‘pings’ and you either stop what you are doing to read it, disrupting the flow of your work, or you ignore it and get that niggle in the back of your mind that you are ignoring something really important which distracts you from what you are doing.
By turning off email notices you are taking control of when you look at your inbox, doing so only when you have time to properly deal with it.
2 The 5 minute rule
If you can deal with an email in less than 5 minutes do so and then delete or file. By reading and ignoring you are clogging up your inbox, better to reply, delete or file straight away which will help keep the number of emails to a manageable level.
3 Folders are fantastic
I have a lot of email folders: ones for clients, ones for service providers, for invoices, for newsletters. As soon as I have dealt with an email I either delete or file in the appropriate folder. Folders are great for emails you want to keep as you remove them from your inbox into a separate, searchable folder. So if you want to refer back to the account of how Mr Holmes fell from the cliff edge all you need to do is look in the Holmes folder.
4 Automatic rules
I subscribe to a number of newsletters. If they were to appear in my inbox I’d be tempted to read them straight away, distracting me from my work. So I have set up an automatic rule so that all my newsletters are delivered directly to my newsletter folders. I then read them when I have time and a cup of tea. My inbox is kept clear of distractions.
5 Zero tolerance
I aim for a zero email inbox. I don’t always achieve it but it is rare for me to have more than a 100 emails in my inbox at any one time, and usually it is under 50. This makes things manageable and efficient. I can deal with things quickly, find old information fast and can see at a glance the urgent things I need to attend to.
If you follow the rules above then you will be on your way to a quicker and calmer way of working with email.
What are your top tips?