Inbox Woes: Efficient Ways to Manage Email

Recently, I had a discussion with (my wife) Erin regarding our joint email account. It was really interesting to find out that we organize our email in a completely different way! So that got me thinking a bit about my inbox and how I have figured out how to efficiently manage my email. I thought I would share a few of my own personal tips with you.
efficient ways to manage email

I typically get 100-200 emails a day, not including spam. There are a few methods I’ve been using to keep my brain from exploding. Having had a number of jobs, I’ve used Mac Mail, Thunderbird, Entourage, and Outlook. However, regardless of the mail program, I was always able to organize my emails just the way I like ‘em.

First of all, I use a folder organization system, just like the file folders on your computer. For example, I have a top level folder for Design Milk, with a number of sub-folders including “Submissions”, “Archives”, and “Directory” and more [these are called “labels” in Gmail]. I love Archive folders. This is where I save important stuff that I know I’ll need some day, but not right now.

When an email comes in, I read it, then I will file it in the appropriate folder. With one exception: if I need to respond or follow up. I only keep emails in my inbox that require action from me. This way, I keep the inbox volume fairly low.

Secondly, I use canned responses. This isn’t me being impersonal, even though you might think so at first. It’s me being efficient and considerate. Not only am I making the effort to respond, but because I use a canned response I am allowing myself enough time to respond to everyone. If I had to type every single response every time, I’d be on email all day.

I also use “Rules”. Rules is my favorite thing because I subscribe to a lot of email newsletters, you know the ones you somehow subscribe to but don’t often read [*cough*victoria’s secret*cough*gap*cough*]? With Rules, I’m able to get those newsletters and have them go automatically into a particular folder instead of my inbox. That way, I can read them when I want to, and they’re already filed away.

Previously, when I worked in advertising and publishing, I used to also create rules for particular co-workers and projects. I often saved my sent email for documentation, and color-coded all emails coming from me in blue.

I set aside a half-hour first thing in the morning dedicated to email. For you, this can be any time of the day. Maybe you only need 15 minutes or maybe you need an hour. Regardless, if you set the time apart and devote yourself to email, you will feel less interrupted and more productive throughout the day.

I like to hit “Delete”. Don’t be afraid to delete stuff.

  • Let’s say you are a shop owner and you get the same inquiry a few times a week. At this point, you’ve probably developed  canned response for this question. And you certainly don’t need to keep those emails. Delete!
  • Do you use email threading? Why do you need all those emails when the entire conversation is captured in the most recent email? Delete!
  • If it’s older then 6 months and you haven’t even looked at it…Delete! I always go through all my folders about once a month and look for items I haven’t looked at or needed in months. That tells me they are safe to be deleted.
  • If the email contains an important attachment but no important message, download attachments and save them to your hard drive, then Delete!
  • Blog comments, site maintenance updates and notices, Twitter direct messages, Facebook notifications…Delete!

Speaking of Twitter, Flickr, and Facebook, I’ve done wonders by just going into my respective accounts and removing the email notifications. Now, I get so much less email because I’m on those websites so often that I don’t need those extra email updates.

Well, I hope that my system might help get you a little more organized. If it’s not for you, don’t fret! Do what works best for you. Remember, the less time you spend on email, the more productive you will be.

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