There’s nothing like a bursting email inbox to make someone feel overwhelmed and frazzled. If you frequently find yourself struggling to keep up with the constant barrage of messages that roll in all day, every day, here are six ways to get a handle on the situation and reclaim some time:
1. No action needed? Delete! Spend the first few minutes of every day deleting emails that are either 1) junk/coupons from stores where you shop/information you don’t need or 2) work-related emails that require no further action (e.g. “Thanks!” replies or “FYI” notes from coworkers). Do the same thing at the end of the day too.
2. Set an expiration date. A good way to embark on the arduous process of cleaning out a big inbox is to pick a certain date and delete any emails prior to that date. Maybe it’s 12 months if you have lots of long-term, ongoing projects, or maybe six is fine if you feel confident that you won’t need anything further back than that.
3. Unsubscribe often. Most of us subscribe (sometimes unbeknownst to us) to far too many unnecessary emails. Do yourself a favor and take the 10 seconds to scroll to the bottom of email newsletters you no longer want and unsubscribe. You’ll receive less mail each day, which will save you from having to mass delete—and minimize the chances you accidentally delete important emails by mistake.
4. Use those folders. Keep your inbox clean by creating main folders and subfolders and “filing” messages away once you’ve addressed them. When you receive something you need or want to keep, but don’t need in the inbox anymore, create a folder for it. For example, you might have “Bills,” “School” (for communications from your children’s teachers), and “Home” folders as well as folders for each of your work projects or clients.
5. Develop a response schedule that works for you. Some people like responding to emails as soon as they pop up, while others prefer to turn off notifications and look at email a few times throughout the day. Do whatever works best for you, but at the end of the day, make sure you’ve either deleted, filed (to save), replied to, or flagged for follow-up every email that comes in. Your inbox will be more manageable this way.
6. Use good subject lines. Whenever possible, embrace a naming convention with email subject lines (e.g. “Weekly update M/D/YY” for your regular staff updates or “Blog: Title” for blogs you write and send to your marketing department for review). Subject lines are one of the easiest ways to find emails in your sent items or folders later on, should you need them. Be consistent, and you’ll prevent future headaches.
When it comes down to it, email management takes consistent effort—but it doesn’t have to be a nightmare. Take the time to clean things out first, then commit to organizing and deleting for a few minutes a day every day (and of course, respond to emails that warrant a response). Soon, your inbox will be tidy and easy to navigate.