Email Management Tips – Reigning in a Huge Waste of Time

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We all have it…that dreaded object that hogs so much of our time and renders us powerless to stay on track.  Yes…email.

I have managed finally to control my inbox, at least at work.  Next, I will be working on controlling the home email.  Here are a few tips that have greatly improved not only my productivity, but also allow me to keep some semblance of sanity at work.

Folders…Lots of Them

I have two folders directly off my Inbox – Travel and Upcoming Events.  With the amount of travel I sometimes have, airline receipts and hotel/car reservations go in the Travel folder.  Webinars and webcasts I will be attending go in the Events folder so I can find those links in the event they don’t add automatically to my calendar. At the same level as the Inbox folder, (under my email address in Outlook’s folder view on the left hand side) I have many more folders created.  Most importantly, I have a few folders that hold those annoying email newsletters and notifications I sign up for, thinking I will have time to read them (and I occasionally do, with email under control).  Some other important folders I have are Current Projects, Email 2 Keep, and Email 4 Software.  Inside these folders are other folders; for instance, in Current Projects I have a folder for each project I’m involved in.  In the Email 2 Keep are folders for various work announcements and emails concerning my certifications/renewals; the Email 4 Software holds information about the various software packages I deal with on a daily basis (Sage HRMS, Sage 100, etc.). 

Desktop Alerts…Stop Them

Those annoying little previews of each email that pop up on your screen…it’s a constant barrage to deal with.  Each email that comes in distracts you, and then it takes time to return to the thought process prior to the email.  Plus, a lot of those emails coming in make you stop and think, “oh, that will only take a minute for me to answer…let me take care of that really quickly.”  That simple thought not only does you an injustice, it is also an injustice to the email sender.  If you are constantly answering emails when they show up in your inbox, that tells people that you have nothing better to do than answer their emails, and they will continue to expect such a quick response.  Wouldn’t you rather have the satisfaction of crossing off items already on your to-do list, instead of your only accomplishment being “I answered 837 emails today?”  Set aside some specific times in your day to check your inbox, but don’t let your inbox reign supreme over your to-do list.  Turn off those pesky alerts in Outlook from File | Options | Mail in the Message Arrival section.  It’s okay…really.  Uncheck the box and click Ok.

Rules Were Made to be…Followed

Take the time as you begin to clean out your inbox and file things in your new folders to set up rules for Outlook (note that I’m running Outlook 2010) to follow.  As you move things like your Linked In notifications, highlight the message, and then click on Rules on Outlook’s Home ribbon.  You’ll have an option like “Always move messages from…” and if you select that option it will ask for the folder to move those messages.  After that, Outlook automatically moves them before you ever see them in your inbox.  As you create more and more rules, your inbox will be much cleaner and easier to deal with.

Unsubscribe…and Delete

Are you really going to read all of those feeds and newsletters you’ve signed up for?  I didn’t really think so.  Find the unsubscribe option in the email and use it.  When you are through with an email that you don’t really need to file away for posterity (or until that project is completed), click the big black X up there.  Yes, it’s okay.  It will only go into a Deleted folder.  However, next make sure you go into the options under Outlook’s File ribbon, click on Advanced, and check the little box next to Empty Deleted Items folders when exiting Outlook.  Trust me – it will be okay.  You aren’t really going to go dumpster-diving for email you’re through with, are you?

One last note…as of this writing, I have only 14 items in my inbox.  That’s how I found time to write this blog.