Let's face it. The state of your email inbox could be improved. Things might feel too cluttered, and the emails aren't slowing down any time soon. You're tired of scrolling past newsletters you probably never subscribed to. You deserve to see more of the things you actually want to see in your inbox. You also don’t want to feel overwhelmed. A poorly managed inbox can cause distractions and communication breakdowns.
Email is supposed to be a tool that works for you, not against you. It's meant to help you receive the information that you need. It's not meant to make your day more stressful. If you feel otherwise, have no fear. We can fix this.
Let’s talk about 25 Ways To #MakeEmailGreatAgain.
1. Categorize Your Emails.
Why: You should be able to reference specific emails as quickly as possible, on demand. Nobody likes digging around weeks later, in search of “that one email.” Creating categories will allow you to more easily navigate your inbox. It will also allow you to more easily see emails that require quick responses.
How: Almost every major email program allows you to create folders and categories. Start to label frequent contacts within their appropriate folders and categories. Examples of general categories to use could include “work,” “family,” and “travel.” More specific categories within the “work” folder could include specific coworkers you communicate with constantly.
2. Use Filters.
Why: Categorizing your inbox is helpful, but sending emails to their respective categories can become time consuming. Automatic filters will save you time and energy by automatically sending emails to pre designated folders.
How: Check out Mashable's superb rundown of how to best use filters for Gmail.
3. Use automated replies.
Why: If you’re going to be away from email for more than the usual period of time, it’s just best to let people know that they shouldn’t expect a reply as quickly as possible. This can alleviate a lot of angst from people who could otherwise feel that they’re being ignored or pushed aside. It can also easily redirect them to people who can address the email’s subject matter in your absence.
How: Go to “settings” and turn on the auto-reply option. Be sure that your auto reply includes a specification of how long you’ll be unreachable, and what the sender can do to contact you in a different manner, or another person who can be of assistance in your absence.
4. Take action the first time you read an email.
Why: You need to eliminate time spent reading the same email multiple times, and to avoid forgetting about tasks you need to accomplish or replies you need to send. Taking action the first time you open an email allows you to avoid spending time re-reading emails that may or may not actually need your attention.
How: As soon as you read an email, figure out if it’s spam. If it is, mark it as spam and delete it immediately. If it’s not spam, figure out if you can clearly and adequately respond to it within one minute. If you can, do so. If not, consider setting up a phone call with the sender, as opposed to typing out a super lengthy response. If the email requires you to accomplish certain tasks, set a reminder for yourself on Google Calendar or Asana in regards to when you will follow up on those tasks.
5. Be as clear as possible when sending back and forth correspondence.
Why: If you leave more questions to be answered, chances are that more questions will be asked. Back and forth correspondence eats up time and can quickly lead to frustration if not kept in check and handled efficiently. Taking the extra few seconds to be clear, concise, and complete will allow you to cut down on reply emails and focus on more important tasks.
How: When you’re responding to emails, take a few extra questions to ensure that you’re as clear, thorough, concise, and accurate as reasonably possible. Put the bottom line up front, and add pertinent details. Before pressing “send,” re-read the email you are replying to, and evaluate your response in regards to how it fulfills all of the needs outlined in the original email.
6. Devote specific times of the day to to e-mail correspondence.
Why: Constantly checking your email inbox will continuously throw off the focus that you could be using to get through your day, your to-do list, and life in general. Setting specific times to check email will allow you to ensure that you make efficient use of your time. Every time you stop working on the task at hand to check email, you lose focus, which can eat away at productivity.
How: Set daily reminders on your phone for specific times of the day when you’ll have time to adequately respond to, sort through, and act based upon emails you’ve received. When that time comes, put everything else to the side and fully focus on email correspondence.
7. Skim through your “trash” folder once a week, then empty it out.
Why: Nobody’s perfect. It’s possible that you could have accidentally deleted an important email last Tuesday. You don’t want to wait until next year to realize what you missed. Those deleted emails pile up very quickly, and unless you check them consistently, you're likely to just press "Delete" without even attempting to scan the contents.
How: Pick a time of the week. Mark it on your calendar. When that time comes, go through every email in your trash bin, and ensure that you won’t need it in the future. Be reasonably thorough, and lean towards saving things you might need, just in case. Once you’ve done that, completely erase every email in your trash bin.
8. Finish your week with inbox zero.
Why: Email piles up fast throughout the week. That being said, the emails you leave sitting untouched are likely to be buried under a whole new barrage of emails when you come back on Monday morning - if you’re operating on a typical five day work week schedule. Regardless of your schedule, making time to simply clean out your inbox will eliminate long term hassles.
How: Pick a time every week when you’re likely to have fifteen minutes or so to read unopened emails, and act accordingly by moving emails that aren’t filtered to appropriate folders, responding when necessary, and setting appointments or reminders where necessary.
9. Brush up on speed reading techniques.
Why: We read a ridiculous amount of email correspondence some days. Taking the time to learn the tenets of speed reading will be continuously beneficial, as it will allow you to move through your inbox much more efficiently. I'm not saying you need to become some speed reading guru who reads 10,000 words a minute, but what I am saying is that an extra hundred words or so per minute can go a long way.
How: There are a LOT of rumors about speed reading. It’s important that you stick to techniques that are backed up by solid sources. This article succinctly debunks some of the myths surrounding speed reading and walks you through techniques that actually work.
10. Always put the bottom line up front.
Why: Putting the bottom line up front will both eliminate people's need to ask questions, and help you to focus your efforts. People have short attention spans, even when they’re not multitasking. Giving people the tea and/or call to action in the first line will greatly improve the odds of them absorbing information and following through before they go back to texting under the table.
How: Before you even start to reply, think of the message you need to convey. Focus on boiling it down to one statement that allows you to communicate that message. Put that statement first, and only include necessary supporting information after that first sentence.
11. Limit the length of your replies.
Why: If you send a long reply message, you’re likely wasting the time of both yourself and the recipient. Emails aren't meant to be flowery, formal long winded essays. Be polite, but get to the point.
How: Kill the extra fluff. You can be polite, professional, and courteous without giving unnecessary information and resorting to “fluff.” If it’s not going to further help the recipient understand your message, leave it be. If you find yourself needing to say too much, consider making time for a phone call instead.
12. Don’t use “reply all” unless it's absolutely necessary.
Why: Don't be that one person. The person who hits "Reply all" and proceeds to send a question about office supplies to 450 of their closest friends in the company. Think about how annoyed you are when that one person uses “reply all” to send a response that has nothing to do with you. Internalize that annoyance, and use it as a reminder that you don’t want to be that person.
How: Select the person or people who actually need to see the reply you’re sending. You could even consider starting a new, much smaller email chain with the people you actually need to communicate. You've got options, my friend.
13. Don’t feel obligated to respond to every email.
Why: Time is money. Energy is finite. If an email doesn’t directly require a response from you, there’s no point in sending one.
14. Don’t feel obligated to read every email.
Why: I’ll say it again. Time is money. Energy is finite. If the subject and first few lines of an email make it clear that an email is definitely not meant for you, leave it be.
15. Flag emails that require action.
Why: Even when your emails are categorized and filtered, it can be hard to keep track of what’s important due to sheer volume. Flagging emails you anticipate having to go back to will allow you to more easily find them.
How: Press the red flag button next to the subject line.
One Time Actions
16. Unsubscribe from newsletters you dislike.
Why: You ever receive email newsletters that you never signed up for? Advertisers and companies can be tricky in regards to how they get your email addresses. Allowing irrelevant emails to take up space in your inbox will unnecessarily take up your time.
How: Search for “unsubscribe” in your inbox, and all of the email newsletters you’re subscribed to should show up. If you see email newsletters that you never or rarely open, open them up and scroll to the bottom. You should see an "unsubscribe" button. Click that.
17. Sign up for the newsletters you’re excited to read.
Why: There are plenty of brands and outlets that provide information you actually want to consume. The beautiful thing about the internet is that you can quickly sign up to get all sorts of entertaining and useful content sent directly to you. (I'm biased, but I think the #MakeEmailGreatAgain newsletter is a great option.)
How: Go through all of your favorite websites and ensure that you’ve signed up for their available email newsletters. Consider researching different brands and outlets covering the things you're interested in. As you start to receive desirable email newsletters, add the email addresses they’re sent from to your contacts list.
18.Consolidate your accounts.
Why: Between business, work, school, and other areas of life, most of us have more than one email account. That’s great. The thing is, as life shifts, we leave behind old accounts and open up new ones. If you’ve ever gone back and checked your old school or work account to find that you missed important or valuable things, I feel for you. The thing is, going back and forth between accounts you largely don’t use is a waste of time.
How: Figure out what accounts are going to be used for work correspondence and friends/family correspondence. Designate a third account that you’ll use to sign up for every app, social media platform, etc. Take the rest of the accounts you have left and put them on “away.” Make sure your “away” message instructs recipients on what new email address to reach you at. Move on with your life. Have a Snickers.
19. Create reply templates for common interactions.
Why: A template can see like a very impersonal method of structuring communication, until you start to find yourself answering the same questions day after day and week after week. An easily accessible and modifiable template will allow you cut down on time spent addressing the same common questions or issues over and over again.
How: Scroll through your “sent emails” folder and take note of any trends. Are you sending very similar replies in regards to the same general subjects? If so, take the time to create a general template that covers the information needed to adequately answer the question. Be sure to leave space for personalized messaging, and of course, the person’s name. When you get that same question for the 99th time, open up that template and plug in all of the things.
20. Turn off your notifications.
Why: No matter how focused you are, notification sounds or pop ups are bound to knock your focus off, to a degree. If you're going to be at your most productive, you need to set aside specific times to check and respond to email. Every time you shift your focus to your email inbox and try to refocus after reading or responding, you make it harder to get things done efficiently.
How: Be sure to turn off push notifications on your smart phone, computer operating system, and browser respectively.
21. Find alternate communication methods.
Why: Every conversation isn’t meant to be a back and forth, never ending email chain. If you’re frequently sending a lot of messages back and forth with the same team of people, consider dropping the email chain and picking up a messaging app like Slack or GroupMe instead to cut down on general inbox clutter and save memory.
How: Slack is my favorite, for a number of reasons. This article does a great job of breaking down the benefits of Slack and other alternative options.
22. Use Boomerang to schedule emails.
Why: You are completely in charge of your schedule, but when it comes to interacting with other people it’s logical to limit interactions outside of traditional business hours. Boomerang allows you to schedule emails at any point, so that you can write them whenever you feel like it. Set it up, and don’t worry about it again.
23. Don’t use email for scheduling or assigning tasks.
Why: Emailing someone to discuss details or conditions of future tasks can be beneficial, but using email to actually delegate a task to be completed is inefficient. It also needlessly fills up inboxes. Using Google Calendar to assign tasks actually puts the task on the recipient’s schedule, once they accept it.
How: If you use Gmail, start to assign tasks using Google Calendar. Check out this PC Mag article on ways to get the most use out of Google Calendar.
24. Experiment with multiple email clients.
Why: Gmail is the most commonly used email client, but that doesn’t mean that it’s the best one for you. Everyone operates differently. It’s on you to figure out which option works best for you.
How: Consider these 9 gmail alternatives, courtesy of Beebom. Read up on the benefits of each, and if any of them catch your eye, try them!
25. Don’t be overly attached to “keeping up with your inbox.”
Why: At the end of the day, you can only do so much in a day. If your inbox is still full, life will still go on. It’s important to not overemphasize email any more than necessary, because there’s a lot more to worry about in life
How: If you find yourself obsessively checking email, force yourself to take a step back as needed.
So, folks those are my 25 recommendations on how to #MakeEmailGreatAgain. If you have any recommendations, tweet them to me!