THE BLOG

Managing Your Inbox

10/24/2012 03:00 pm ET | Updated Dec 24, 2012

Whether we're seasoned veterans or technology rookies, we're all guilty of losing control of our inbox. The average person is bombarded with 75 emails a day and urgent emails often get lost in the clutter. We might not even know we received an urgent email because we have messages floating around our inbox from all different senders. In a culture where timeliness is crucial, how can we stay on top of our correspondences with such a disorderly inbox? Because we lack email management skills, we might leave important clients wondering why we're ignoring them or give our boss reason to question our competence. At the end of the day, we all have deadlines to meet or managers to report to and we need to provide answers immediately. Fortunately, though, email management tactics are easy to implement. Three strategies you can adopt to start controlling your inbox include sorting emails using folders, sending brief notes of acknowledgement, and scheduling uninterrupted time every day to process your email.

Sorting Emails

When managing your inbox, it's important to take an action-oriented approach. Upon receiving an email, ask yourself, should I save this for later reference or does this require a response? If you answer "yes" to the first question, drag the email (or use labels, depending on your email provider) into its designated folder. If you answer "yes" to the second question, respond to that email as soon as possible or delegate the response to the appropriate person. In other words, you should never open and reopen an email in your inbox. With one simple click, you can sort your emails in the order you want to read or respond to them. Train yourself to handle the email at the top before you move on to the next message. If you have thousands of emails piled up in your inbox, this might be a difficult task to tackle at first; however, by breaking up the sorting process over a few sessions, you'll soon be able to digest the emails you receive every day and habitually reduce your inbox to zero. Also, don't be afraid of the "delete" button!

Sending Brief Notes of Acknowledgement

The next email management tip, sending a brief note of acknowledgement, can be especially helpful on a hectic day at the office. When you're tied up in a meeting or working on a time-sensitive project, scan the title or body of your emails to figure out which ones require a thorough response or additional action; then, send a short note (one sentence or less) acknowledging you received Person A's email and will get back to him or her as soon as possible. If you're having a really busy day and don't even have time to scan your emails, then so be it -- hey, you're not Superman! Sending a brief note of acknowledgment may seem like a futile tactic but its impact can be tremendous: you will give the other person peace of mind and save him or her from having to nag you with a phone call or follow-up email (thus clogging your inbox even more).

Scheduling Uninterrupted Time for Email

The final email management tactic you may want to implement in your daily routine is to schedule time to organize, process, and respond to emails without disturbance. Some days it may be impossible to find quiet time if your co-workers are swarming you with questions or your calendar is booked with off-site meetings all day. However, you have to do what it takes to get the job done, even if that means shutting your office door, letting calls go to voicemail or staying later at the office. For a set period of time every day, stop what you're doing and just focus on processing emails and crafting thorough responses. It's also just as important to schedule time to ignore your email and focus on important assignments that don't require email communication. You'll be amazed how efficient you'll be when you stop multi-tasking.

Our dependence on email and expectancy of immediate response make email management skills even more crucial in the workplace. We perceive every email we send or receive as urgent. We are anxious to receive a quick response, whether we have to meet a deadline in an hour or a couple weeks from now. Despite the efficiency email brings to our daily lives, email can also make our lives more hectic. Some of the emails we receive on a daily basis may be legitimately urgent but we are also copied on countless emails that don't require our response; by consistently weeding through our emails, we can eliminate unnecessary stress related to seeing hundreds of unread messages. As we hone our inbox management skills, though, we must stop ourselves before we start responding to emails at the dinner table or at family gatherings. Although these organization skills are important for our job success, we cannot allow our perception of urgency to spin out of control.