How to make friends with your inbox

Like it or not, email is here to stay – for the time being at least.  There are all sorts of alternative messaging platforms and applications available, but for most of us email is still our primary business communication tool. Together with meetings, emails are the bane of many people’s professional lives and a source of complaint in most offices, but if used well email can serve as a great communication tool.    

The average office worker receives somewhere in the region of 120 emails every day and so we need to master our use of email rather than letting it control us. How can we build a better relationship with our email inbox? 

Simple inbox management tips 

You may have read about the companies that implement a No Email Friday or turn off their servers at 5.30 every evening, or the executives that claim to delete the entire contents of their inbox without reading on returning from their holiday. Without going to such extremes here are some simple tips to help you manage your inbox: 

  • Train yourself to check and respond to emails less frequently: three or four times a day should be enough or once an hour if you really must.  Make sure you have the notifications turned off so you aren’t distracted from what you are working on each time you get that ping 

  • Create rules and folders to keep yourself organised: updates and newsletters can be automatically directed into a separate folder so you can review when you have time. Consider creating a filter for meeting invitations and responses and some people even create a filter for emails they receive in CC 

  • Unsubscribe ruthlessly and use services like unroll.me to help you 

  • File or delete – once you’re done with an email, get it out of your inbox.  Save any attachments you need and then you can delete or file it in a folder if the email contains information you may need to refer to again 

  • Don’t always feel obliged to reply, particularly to group emails  

Good Email etiquette saves all our inboxes 

Encourage good email etiquette in your team or organisation and lead by example.  It can be time well spent to create guidelines or an email charter for your organisation. Here are some tips to get you started: 

  • Don’t overuse the CC and Reply all function and create a culture in your teams where copying in the world is not the norm 

  • Make sure that emails have a subject line that is meaningful and searchable; if you are changing the topic without opening a new thread then change the subject line 

  • Keep emails short and to the point making it clear what, if anything, you need the reader to do.  There is no need to document your thought processes 

  • Abbreviations and acronyms can save time but only if the reader knows what they mean.  Be careful, particularly when emailing outside your organisation, of using terms that might confuse your reader 

  •  Be wary of the using the red ‘urgent’ exclamation mark:  your reader will have their own way of prioritising their inbox and deciding what is most important. 

A zero inbox may be an unachievable aspiration but if you invest some time to master your use of email rather than letting it be your master, you will find yourself being less of a slave to your inbox and with more time to spend on what you enjoy doing. 

Back to Blogs Next Entry