Manage Your Email Inbox

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Better manage your email inbox to reduce distractions and save time.

Causes of email overload

  • Too many messages
  • Too long messages
  • Not enough time
  • Difficult to decide what to respond to first
  • Thoughtfulness required

Effects of email overload

A research study, “Case Study: evaluating the effect of email interruptions within the workplace“ (source) authored by Thomas Jackson of Loughborough University found that 70% of arriving emails were reacted to within 6 seconds. Once the email was addressed, it took an average employee 64 seconds to resume working at the same rate they were before the interruption.

Tips -- try one of these for a week!

Deal with each message only once (Getting Things Done)

  • If action required, then do it, delegate it, or defer it.
  • If no action required, then file it, delete it, or incubate it.
  • Flag or file deferred messages. Ignore the read messages. Keep for future searches.

Organize messages by importance and urgency

  • Rules automatically file messages into folders (OutlookEntourageadvice from Inbox Zero)
  • Search folders (mail views) show unread messages, items sent only to you, etc.
  • Categories assign colors to messages based on criteria. (Outlook | Entourage)

Master the one-line response

  • A short response may do the recipient a favor (Inbox Zero)
  • Reply with a link.
  • Ask a question.
  • "I don't know."
  • Know when not to reply.

Limit email interruptions, read email in bunches

  • Turn off notifications (Entourage -> Preferences | Edit -> Options)
  • Check mail no more frequently than every 20 min
  • Quit your email when you need a distraction-free workspace.
  • Build a habit of reading email at specific times of day (hourly at most) and with a clear purpose.

Strengthen your scanning techniques

  • Scan senders and subjects first. Pass over some messages immediately.
  • Scan the first line of each paragraph. Pass over some messages based on that.
  • Read some messages all the way through.

Eliminate extraneous email

  • Limit list subscriptions and write rules to file the others.
  • Put a stop to reply-all chains.
  • Pick up the phone or walk to a colleague for a change.
  • Separate your work and personal email.

Use Search to find old messages

  • Search has become much more effective of late.
  • Use keywords to find messages by text or by mail field (sender, subject, etc.)
  • Search Sent Items to review a message you sent to someone else.
  • Only put items in Trash that you really never want to see again.


Five Methodologies to Deal With Email Overload (ReadWriteWeb)

Inbox Zero, by Merlin Mann

Getting Things Done (GTD), by David Allen

Send, by David Shipley and Will Schwalbe

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