How to stop your inbox running the show

Jenni Armstrong

Former Brand and Content Manager, Google

On average 122 business emails per user are sent and received every day – count ’em.

From reply-all round robins to enthusiastic cc-ers  – we all too often start the day full of good intentions, fire up our emails – and before you know it our inboxes have sideswiped the morning, taking plans and productivity with them. When it comes to workplace communication who’s really in charge here?

Owen Smith, Head of Product at The ADBL, gave us top 5 tips to resist the lure of the message alert tone and start email wrangling.

Reduce to zero follower Owen has pulled together insights he’s drawn from email discipline gurus Eric Schmidt and Merlin Mann, and included tips and and learnings of his own.

They’re quick wins, so you shouldn’t be tempted to check your email before you get to the end.

1. Find your routine

Don’t let email dictate your priorities. Start by breaking the habit.

Disable email notifications. Check in once a day, or once an hour – find what works for you – but make your own schedule for emails and take back control.

2. ‘Process your inbox’

Mythbusters: the term ‘inbox zero’ is commonly thought to mean zero/close to zero emails, when actually it refers to reducing the brainpower required to work through your inbox.

When you decide to look at your inbox (see Tip 1), aim to ‘process’ it quickly first, then come back at a time you choose in order to tackle the hard ones.

Here’s how you do it:

  • Delete (go for it)
  • Delegate (should someone else be doing this? Are you holding someone else back from getting it done?)
  • Respond (if it’s going to take less than two minutes to reply, go for it)
  • Defer (for those emails that are going to take a little longer)
  • Do (put something into action)

3. You need two folders

‘Requires Response’ and ‘Archive’ (everything else)

File as necessary. Let search do the rest.

4. Get to the point

Be nice, but be succinct. Relevant subject lines with keywords are not only a big help here, they make searching your folders from Tip 3 a lot easier. You probably don’t need to over-explain in your emails either  – your colleagues are all quite clever after all.

It might seem counter-intuitive, but consider if five shorter emails are better than a longer one with a big to-do list. There’s nothing more satisfying than ticking/filing something off your to-do list, after all.

5. Keep learning from others

A company-wide scheme introduced at Daimler gave employees the option to use a feature which deletes any and all incoming emails whilst they’re on leave, with an out of office informing the sender.

Decoded removed internal email entirely, and colleagues switched to Slack to communicate instead.

Look to external organisations for inspiration and ideas that could work for you.

So that’s email sorted. Next up, meetings…

Have you got any email management tips of your own? Has your company launched a life-changing productivity initiative of its own? Share them below!

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