By February 19, 2013 Read More →

3 steps to taming your emails and keeping your sanity

Do you know how many emails you have in your inbox this very second?

Work from Home Wisdom - taming emails, Kathryn HallVA Kathryn Hall can help you get back in control, even if you have thousands of emails waiting for your attention:

OK, so you probably can’t give a truly accurate number. But as I sit here writing, I can tell you with absolute confidence, that I have no more than 10 emails waiting to grab my attention – in fact I never have much more than this. And for the record, it’s not because I don’t receive any emails – I get plenty, thanks for asking.

So what’s your number? 10? 50? 500? Or is it more like someone I once worked with who had over 10,000 (half of which were unopened, I might add). You can imagine my joy when, once upon a time, on my first day of a new job, I was given his inbox to sort out.

Them: ‘Here’s his inbox. It needs sorting.’
Me: ‘What, all 10,000?!’
Them: ‘Yep.’
Me: ‘Oh, right.’ *Sobs into tea*

I kicked his inbox into shape in the end and surprisingly, managed to do it without losing too many brain cells. Want to know how? Then read on.

1) Clear the decks

The inbox in question had turned into an uncontrollable beast made up mostly of spam and ‘FYI’ emails which were drowning the important stuff. With no structure in place to effectively manage everything, incoming mail simply piled up one on top of the other in his inbox. So, first job? To clear the decks and get that inbox down to zero.

Running through all those emails would have been a hugely time consuming and never-ending job. So, I simply dealt with the important mail from the previous fortnight, then moved everything else into a file called archive. Like magic, I now had an empty inbox and a clean slate to work with.

2) Switch off from email till your calendar says so

My next challenge was how to deal with the flurry of mail that continued to enter his mailbox while still managing the rest of my workload.

Over the last few years, technology has provided us with the opportunity to be increasingly connected to our businesses. Of course this technology has brought with it many benefits such as quick and easy contact with clients. However a less desirable consequence of being constantly linked to the web, is that email can serve as a huge distraction.

To overcome these interruptions, I blocked out periods during the day to deal with emails and kept the account closed while working on other tasks. Working in this way meant I was able focus my energy on other responsibilities without the risk of being led astray by automatic notifications. Plus, blocking time for emails meant I could quickly and effectively whizz through them in one swoop when I chose to.

3) Action your emails as soon as you read them

My boss at the time had been using his main inbox as storage for any incoming mail, a common but ineffective way to manage emails. With his inbox now empty, I put into place a system that ensured only unread emails would ever show in his main inbox. If you’d like to do the same, follow the below…

When you open your inbox and read a new email, action it with one of the following options:

Deal with it now
Many emails can be dealt with in a matter of seconds, in which case it’s far more effective to deal with them there and then. Get those quick replies sent and then file those emails away as completed. Get into the habit of unsubscribing from any newsletters or marketing emails you no longer wish to receive to help cut down the spam.

Move larger tasks into a pending file

For emails that need more thought or action, move them into a file called ‘pending’. Then go straight into your calendar to block times out for dealing specifically with these tasks.

The key to making this all work?

Don’t open emails unless you actually have the time to deal with what’s waiting for you on the other side – it’s a pointless exercise which benefits no-one, especially you.

Put these actions into place and you’ll be well on the way to turning your inbox from a stressful time sponger into an effective way to keep in touch with the world.

Kathryn is a Virtual Assistant with over 10 years administrative experience. Running My Virtual Sidekick, she specialises in helping creative women gain the time and freedom they crave so they can focus on the parts of their business that they love.

Posted in: Routine

7 Comments on "3 steps to taming your emails and keeping your sanity"

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  1. Andrew Horder says:

    Great tips. The only thing I would add is that a frequent objection to the advice to switch off the email program is that clients need to use it to reply or deal with some of those important scheduled emails in the pending file.
    My response to this is to switch off the automatic “send and receive”, and do that manually at your diarised email time.

    • Absolutely agree Andrew. The key for this to work is to stop the pop-ups appearing and leading you off on a tangent. Switching off the send/receive is a great way to do that.

    • I love the name of your website, Andrew. Dealing with emails as they come in is a great way to be a busy fool! And I see we have Nick Williams in common too 🙂

  2. The record for an inbox I’ve seen is nearly 70k unread.

  3. Good grief – when there’s that many, you may as well scrap it and start again!