15 Tips to Manage Email Effectively
Columnist Marilyn Vos Savant once wrote “email, instant messaging and cell phones give us fabulous communication ability, but because we live and work in our own little worlds, that communication is totally disorganized.
How many of us have felt overwhelmed by our email inbox at times? It’s no wonder – in 2013, we received over 100 billion daily emails (and, believe it or not, not all of them were relevant to our needs.[Tweet “Consumer and business email accounts totaled nearly 3.9 billion accounts last year”]
, according to technology market research firm The Radicati Group. There is a lot of traffic streaming to our inboxes. So what steps can we take to manage our email messages effectively? We’ve got 15 tips that will help you maintain your sanity.
TIP #1 – Use labels, folders & tabs
You’re first step is to create a system for organizing the numerous messages you receive. Programs such as Gmail allow users to label messages in order to store them by an activity, interest, sender or other relevant tag. You can also create folders to organize work-related and personal messages. Google also created a tab system with Primary, Social, Promotions, Updates and Forums categories so messages can be routed for a more organized viewing experience.
It’s important to establish an organized system that allows you to categorize messages. This way, you can prioritize which messages you’ll view first and which ones can wait until “down time”.
TIP #2 – Filter your messages
Most email programs enable users to set rules, or filters, which automatically file messages in the folders you set up in tip #1. For example, Gmail users can use Labels to filter messages by sender, topic, organization or other personally useful terms, such as “Read Later”. You can apply a label while viewing your inbox or while reading the message. Labels only apply to existing messages and must be selected by the user.
To manage the inflow of messages, you can set up a filter that will automatically route messages that fit certain criteria, such as from a specific sender, to a folder that can be opened later. This feature makes it easier to keep your general inbox clear and enables users to quickly find filtered messages.
TIP #3 – Archive “no response” messages
Many of us receive confirmation notices on orders, registrations and other activities. These messages should be routed to an Archive folder for safe keeping. Although many people tend to delete these messages, it’s a good idea to hold them in your archives for a while. Once a few months have passed (or whatever your chosen timeline), you should view the Archive folder contents and remove unnecessary messages.
TIP #4 – Give it a gold star
Gmail and other programs allow users to attach a star to messages. This designation highlights a message or messages as important among those within your inbox. You may want to use stars as a reminder to return to the message at a later time.
You can also select a message as “important” by attaching a colored tab to your message. This tells Gmail that future messages in a specific conversation should be highlighted among the other messages. Once messages have been labeled with stars or colored tabs, you can filter your inbox view to show only those messages, allowing you to focus on timely and relevant messages.
TIP #5 – Disable desktop notifications
While it may be helpful to be immediately notified of an incoming message, most emails you receive don’t likely require instant attention. Unless you are “on the hook” for a lightning-fast response, keep the notifications setting off. These alerts can distract even the most disciplined worker.
Alternatively, you can set reminders in your task management or scheduling program to notify you when it’s time to check the inbox. In this way, you will be notified on your schedule and not when every email is received.
TIP #6 – Deploy the Task List
Those who use Gmail will be familiar with the Task List. This can be a handy tool to organize which messages require follow up and remind you of certain activities. The Task List feature allows you to enter a date and notes related to an email message. Tasks can be moved up or down in priority, sorted by due date, and printed to take with you to meetings.
TIP #7 – Enable auto-archiving
Gmail and other systems allow you to automatically archive reply messages you’ve sent. By turning on the “send and archive” feature in your email settings, you can immediately designate threads to your Archive folder when you send a reply. This helps keep your inbox fresh – no need to hold on to a thread as a reminder of a previous conversation!
Keep in mind, however, that it is good practice to review your archive folder occasionally to make sure you have not missed a key message. (This also applies to your Spam folder.)
TIP #8 – Deploy third-party tools to re-deliver messages
There are apps and plugins that allow you to delay message delivery for an email you want to send at just the right time. These tools allow you to manage conversations via email in a way that fits your daily schedule while remaining active in the thread. [Tweet “Collabspot or Boomerang allow you to draft a message and schedule a future delivery date”]. You can also return a previously viewed message to your inbox when you need to revisit a thread.
TIP #9 – Minimize newsletter clutter
While it’s great to be informed through newsletters, blog posts, updates and other ongoing communications, you can easily become distracted if you open subscriber messages throughout your day. One effective email management tactic is to re-route those messages to a folder you can return to at your leisure. [Tweet “Tools such as Unroll.me are great at pulling out subscriptions and storing them in a specific folder”]. As a bonus, you can easily unsubscribe to those newsletters you find that are no longer useful.
TIP #10 – Optimize your email relationships
One way to help build relationships via email is to add a tool like Rapportive that embeds details about your contacts within your Gmail account. You can view Twitter handles, LinkedIn bios, websites, locations and other information all through your email program. This can help when you’re drafting personalized messages, and also helps to organize contacts and messages that have been exchanged.
TIP #11 – Auto-prioritization
Let’s face it: most of us use productivity apps to help streamline our day. These tools prioritize tasks. [Tweet “You can also apply prioritization to your inbox using Gmail’s Priority Inbox”] or apps such as Accompli and SaneBox. These apps review your email behavior to stage messages according to priority. If you have business associates you regularly email, messages received from those senders will be routed to the top of your inbox.
TIP #12 – Create clear, full messages
One of the reasons that email activity can take up to one-third of our daily workday is that many times email messages are incomplete or misunderstood. You can reduce the number of bounce-back responses, like “what time should we meet?” by including as much detail within your message as possible. For example, indicating “our meeting at 9:00 am on September 25 in conference room B” versus “our meeting next Thursday” will eliminate confusion on the recipient’s part and lessen the likelihood of a return message.
When you draft an email message, think like the recipient. Does this message contain everything he will need in order to act upon it?
TIP #13 – Reduce, reuse & recycle
You can apply the same principle of protecting the environment to protecting your email sanity. First, when you open your mailbox, immediately discard any messages that won’t have relevance during the next several days. Reduce the number of potentially distracting messages. Second, create templates for often-repeated messaging. Keep the subject line, message body or signature for future messages. Finally, repurpose previous messages for delivery to new recipients. You probably have some good content that can be used for different purposes.
TIP #14 – Be smart with the subject line
Being an effective email communicator can shrink your inbox. The subject line is an important element to managing email communications. Many times, email recipients simply scan a subject line then determine whether to open the message or not. This can lead to problems. To be more effective at getting your messages seen, be as specific as possible about the intent and content of the message within the subject line.
Sometimes you can include your entire message in the subject line. If so, put “EOM” at the end of the line to indicate the end of the message. Your recipients will thank you for saving them the need to open the email.
To lower the number of needless responses to your messages, tell them they don’t need to reply. For instance, use “NNTR” (no need to respond) as a way of indicating that a recipient doesn’t need to respond to your message or “FYI” as a way to indicate the message is simply to inform her of something. This will reduce her inbox anxiety and ensure you won’t receive a needless reply.
TIP #15 – Control when you access email
Ultimately, email management boils down to time management. Access your inbox only when you have time to send and receive messages. Email messaging may be an important part of your day, but should not distract you from the task at hand. Set specific times throughout your day to manage email communications. If you’re faced with a high-priority, time-sensitive message, consider using a chat or phone call to address immediate needs rather than having a conversation through email. By using some of the features mentioned earlier, you have greater control over when and how you’ll respond.
Although email is still the dominant digital communication channel, we should not use email exclusively. And we can’t let our inbox overwhelm our work productivity. Take the time to implement some of these tips and you’ll find that email management is just like managing our other tasks. Use available tools and self-discipline to keep your email activity in line.