Email is perhaps the first killer app of our modern networked world. It has changed the way we communicate, accelerating the speed of business, and leaping across geographic distance. Though it’s unquestionably a great tool for effective communications, email can also sap your productivity, bogging you down in an inbox avalanche.That email can overwhelm the modern workforce is hardly news — that’s among the reasons for the growing usage of other communication options such as instant and text messaging. And though you have other options available to you for communicating, email remains the stolid, reliable standby of the digital age. So how do you use it without squandering your time or losing your mind?
The gateway to your email experience is the inbox. If you can keep your inbox in trim, you’ll have smooth sailing elsewhere with your email. Here are some guidelines for how to master your inbox:
* Visit, don’t lurk — If you keep your email client open all the time, you’ll check it all the time. That’s particularly true if you have an icon or audio alert for incoming messages. If you’re checking email constantly, you’ll be reading and replying to email constantly and that can suck up an entire day before you know it. Set yourself a schedule for email. Once an hour, every other hour, or twice per day — whatever makes sense for you. Be making your email an appointment, it won’t take over your workday.
* Delete, Reply, Save — Once you’ve moved to email by appointment, you still need to wade through all those messages. Here’s a rule of thumb that will keep you sane: empty your inbox every time you check your email. Generally, emails fall into three categories:
1) Messages you can delete (that’s easy, CTRL D is your friend)
2) Messages that require a reply. If you can reply to a message quickly, do it immediately. If you need to spend more time on it, create a reply and save it to your drafts folder (you can return later when you have more time) and file or delete the original message.
3) Message you need to save. Put these into the appropriate folder (more on creating folders in another entry) and keep moving.
If you follow these two principles guidelines, your inbox will remain clear. Once you’ve cleared your inbox, it’s easier to keep clear, and if you keep it clear it will be easier to keep it clear, and it will take you less time to keep it clear. How’s that for recursive logic? But it works.