These simple tips will ease the burden.
Note: As a bonus, we’ll be doing follow-up posts with screen shots outlining how to do each one.
1. Create labels and folders to keep you organized
All email can be broken into two categories:
- Referenceable: This category of emails can easily be dealt with by reading and filing them.
- Actionable: This category encompasses most emails and requires an action step.
By separating the actionable emails, it will remove the less common referenceable emails, and make your inbox less full.
Scan your inbox for the obvious referenceable emails, read them and get them out of there! Now that you’re only looking at the actionable emails, you can read through them from top to bottom and respond. You can also easily create sub-folders so they will be easier to find in the future (ex. leads, to do, Inter-office, etc.).
If you don’t know how to setup folders in Outlook, check out our article on how to create folders and labels in Microsoft Outlook.
See below for steps on how to better manage your actionable emails.
2. Set specific times to check your email (and don’t violate them!)
Set aside 1-2 uninterrupted periods a day to process email in batches, ideally they would be fixed times throughout the week.
Trying to do it as soon as they come in is extremely disruptive to your work flow.
Since you’re going to feel annoyed at the interruption, you’re not going to be able to fully focus on the response, compared to if you were writing that response in ‘email mode’. You can still scan your email occasionally for urgent messages but don’t go into any of them unless absolutely necessary until the designated time.
To implement this, try these two steps:
- Turn off any notification settings in your email providers settings
- Set an alarm on your computer for the designated email processing time
3. Only read the emails you’re prepared to answer
If you’ve received emails from certain clients you know you’re not ready to tackle then just leave it alone for now. You’re wasting time reading an email and leaving it for awhile, only to have it in the back of your mind AND wasting more time, since you’ll have to re-read that email again before you respond. You also run the embarrassing risk of forgetting about the email or wasting more time constantly scanning your inbox to make sure you didn’t forget about an email. Either respond or leave it!
4. Keep content short and sweet
This has two benefits, one, it will prevent follow-up clarification emails and two, it will encourage your correspondent(s) to do the same. Use the following guidelines for reference:
- Subject lines should indicate exactly what the content of your email is
- If it’s a reply, briefly reference the context of your response so your recipient doesn’t have to scroll through all the previous emails to figure out what you’re talking about
- Only address what’s necessary, not every point may need to a response
- Answer in point form if possible, it will be much easier for your reader to digest
- Make any action steps or requests very clear
- If there are multiple individuals on the email (CC’d), break down the thoughts or requests for specific individuals by writing after their initials. (ex. LB- please reserve the conference room for 2pm, DC- please order the sandwiches, etc.)
5. Quickly re-read emails before sending
With the constant stream of emails you get, it can be tempting to churn out responses as quickly as possible. I strongly encourage you to fight the urge. Professional communication should clear without typos and grammatical errors. There’s no second chance once you hit the send button.
6. Use your autoresponder during a busy season
When you’re working 10+ hours a day, it’s can be really frustrating trying to stay on top of all your inbox messages. During this season you need a little more time so set up an autoresponder message letting people know that you’re very busy and it will be X time (hours or days) before you will have a chance to respond.
This will serve a few purposes, to:
- Give you a longer grace period for a response
- Prevent negative feelings because your clients feel like they’re being ignored
- Prevent people from re-sending messages because they think it didn’t go through, adding to your inbox insanity.
If you’re not sure how to setup autoresponders in Microsoft Outlook, you can learn how to do it here: How to create Out of Office Autoresponders in Microsoft Outlook.
7. Do not respond to messages that don’t require one
Our email obsessed culture is reaching a breaking point with email communication… it’s going to consume our days if we don’t learn how to manage it better. Part of that is cutting off conversations that aren’t relevant or important. Emails that don’t REQUIRE a response can be filed away in your reference folder. It’s not rude and it will encourage others to do the same.
Let us know how you if you have any additional tips for managing your email.