Manage your inbox – don’t let it manage you

E-mail is a great way to communicate in business but as it has become more and more widely used, you might find your e-mail inbox is getting out of control. So it's worth having a think about how you can manage your inbox if it's starting to manage you.

At first glance it might seem like constantly checking your message throughout the day is the only way to keep a handle on it but the constant pull of your attention and the force of all-day multitasking can actually make you less productive.

There's plenty of research out there that suggests that it can take up to 20 minutes to get your focus back into the work you were doing before you checked your email.

Unless your job revolves around e-mail (like IT support or an administrative assistant) you should create a set schedule of when you will open, read and respond to daily e-mails. Two or three times a day is considered the optimum.

manage your inbox, don't let it manage you
Remember: "manage your inbox, before if starts to manage you!"

Now I know what you're thinking right now: you're thinking that you will miss something important or that clients or co-workers will think you are unresponsive (or ignoring them).

But here's the thing: if it was 'that' urgent they'd pick up the phone anyway.

But, once they realise how you're working, or how much more productive you are, they might soon want to adopt a similar approach.  Encourage the people you work with to call or text you if their matter is urgent because you only respond to e-mail twice a day.

When you sit down at a pre-scheduled time to answer e-mail you will make your life simpler by doing some email-triage using folders, flags, tags or whatever method you feel most comfortable with.

For instance you can quickly sort messages into: action items, on hold, reference and archive.  E-mails that need your immediate attention will clearly go into the action folder.  If you are waiting for additional information or answers and cannot respond right away, put the message in the on-hold pile.

If the e-mail is for your information only and no response is needed, then it is a reference e-mail.  And finally, if you are done with the e-mail but feel you need to keep it rather than delete it, you can archive it.

Being constantly bombarded by email can be a real pain in the proverbial but don’t let constantly checking your e-mail get in the way of your day to day operations.  Unless you begin to manage your inbox your productivity is going to be far less than it could be.

I know this idea isn't exactly new but I still feel that too few people have latched onto how good it can be for ability to get stuff done.  The constant interruption caused by email is a real productivity-killer.

Checking your messages at set times of the day will allow you to give your full attention to each message and to what’s right in front of you.

Remember: it's YOUR inbox, and you control how you use it.

Do you have a system? Let us know how you manage your inbox or what tools you use to avoid email-overload in the comments below. It'll be great to hear from you.

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