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Managing your inbox

Training | Christopher Trodden | 18 July 2016
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Do you ever feel like you’re sinking in trying to respond to or deal with the never ending stream of emails every day? In today’s digitally connected age, it’s common to open our inboxes to a flood of emails.

Without an efficient process designed to help us stay afloat of the constant flow of communication, our inbox can easily overflow with un-opened mail or unprocessed tasks.

So what can we do to manage the flow of our emails so they don’t end up managing us? Here’s a quick guide that I have used for many years. It’s not the only method out there, but I have found it to be the most useful and easiest to use.

#1. Set regular check times to clear your inbox

Grouping tasks together is a proven way to get in a good work flow rhythm and enable greater productivity. By setting regular check in times, with the intention of clearing out your inbox, you will be able to process your emails in a more intentional manner.

Allocating twenty minutes every 2-3 hours is a good start. If you have a high volume of emails, you may need to increase this frequency.

Note: it’s a good idea to include your email check times in your email signature so others are aware of your process and have an informed expectation of your response time.

#2. Processing Emails

Think of your inbox as an airport: emails come in, and emails leave – they are not supposed to stay there. Having an empty inbox is a wonderful feeling in a busy world.

When you receive an email, it can be processed in a number of ways. Here are some simple buckets that will help you decide how to handle your email in under two minutes:

2.1. Delete it – if it is non-crucial information, it doesn’t need to hang around and you don’t need clogging up your inbox.

2.2. Respond – if you can formulate your response in under two minutes, respond to it straight away then file or delete.

If it takes longer than two minutes, move it to your Action folder (this is a folder you create to hold all pending emails that need your response) and deal with it when you have allocated time to that specific task or project.

2.3. Forward it – this is an option when you need to assign or delegate a task to a colleague, or when you need to inform others to keep them in the loop.

2.4. Archive it – If you receive information you may need at a later point in time, move that email to your Archive folder (again, this is another folder you simply create and label Archive). Some people like to create lists and lists of folder for each person they email. This can be very time consuming, so another option is to rely on the search engine built into your email management system – simply search by name, date, or subject.

#3. Action Folder

Your Action folder is where you store all emails that require more than two minutes of your time.

With emails in this folder, you have three options:

3.1. Action until complete - Some tasks may take 30 minutes to finish, some even longer. Until the  chains of tasks within the email are finished, treat the email as an open document that is waiting to be closed.

Once the appropriate action has been taken, you can move onto the remaining two options:

3.2. Delete – once you have taken action, you no longer need the email, or

3.3. Archive it – once you have taken action, you might want to keep a record of the conversation and tasks assigned, so file your email away in your Archive folder. Archiving emails is a good habit as it acts like a secondary back-up system.