10 Tips to Manage Your E-mail Effectively

Is your inbox overflowing or hijacking your days?

E-mails were created to make our lives easier, not harder. In the beginning, their invention was a time saver but not so much anymore. People seem to be drowning in a sea of incoming messages. It reduces their productivity and makes it difficult to catch up.

In a desperate attempt to keep up with the volume coming in, some people keep an eye on their emails all day, even at night when they need to be relaxing, and they check again as soon as they wake up.

As a result, many important messages get lost or unanswered because the recipient isn’t able to properly act on the messages received when they are read.

Others aren’t able to look at their emails regularly (for example if most of their days are spent in meetings) and are overwhelmed by the ever-growing number of unread messages.

E-mails are unavoidable but you have the power to get organized, develop success habits, and make it the useful time-saving tool it was originally intended to be.

Here are 10 tips to manage your e-mail effectively

1. Start by getting organized. Create e-mail “filters”, also called “rules”, depending on which system you use, to direct incoming messages to specific folders. For example, you may want to create a non-urgent folder for associations’ newsletters and other materials you enjoy reading but can’t give your attention to during busy work hours.

2. Make important messages more visible. Again, depending on which system you use, you can add color, special sounds, a star, a flag, or use many other options to highlight messages from specific senders. That way, e-mails from your boss, President, or anyone else who would expect a prompt response from you, will be seen and handled in a timely manner.

3. Decide how frequently you will check your e-mail when you are in the office and act accordingly. It can be three times a day or every hour if that is more realistic for you or anything in between. Choose a frequency that is appropriate for you and stick to it. Don’t succumb to the temptation of keeping an eye on it all day. That would be the best way to sabotage your productivity. The constant interruption would slow you down and having to switch focus so often would hurt your creativity and ability to do your best work.

4. Clearly communicate to your team when you should be consulted and when they have the authority to make decisions. Some of your staff may run things by you only to show you respect, but not because they truly need your input. Empower others to work independently when you know they can do it successfully. They will appreciate your trust in them and that will reduce unnecessary clutter in your inbox.

5. Discourage excessive use of “reply to all.” These messages can get out of control. If there is a genuine reason to involve multiple people in a discussion, have a short meeting, or conference call. If your meeting is facilitated well, it will save everybody hours compared to reading all the e-mails. If you are collaborating on a document, use a shared drive, dropbox, or google doc so that everybody can edit the document and make progress faster.

6. Make a call. People often don’t feel obligated to respond to email in a timely manner, and written communication can create misunderstandings. When you need a response, and you want to know what the other person is really thinking, pick up the phone! Many times, a 5-minute phone call will spare you from wasting weeks sending countless follow-up messages to someone who doesn’t reply.

7. When you are not in the office, decide when you will read e-mails and be able to respond but don’t read them as they come in with an intention to answer later. Reading a message when you have 8 seconds at a traffic light won’t do anyone any good. All you’ll accomplish is get stressed out and probably misread the message because you are skipping every other word, hoping to finish it before the light turns green.

8. Look for patterns you wish to break. For example, if someone tends to email you excessively about details that he or she should handle without your input, don’t enable to behavior. You can wait a day to respond, encouraging the person to move forward without needing you, or better yet, tell that person you trust their judgment and don’t give the answer. What you allow continues so if you want something to stop, change your approach. If someone emails you too frequently and you respond right away, your inbox may look like instant messaging. If you want to reply because you have time now but don’t want to encourage a dozen follow-up emails on the same day, schedule your reply to be sent in 12 or 24 hours. That will slow down the unproductive back and forth.  

9. Use an auto-responder when you are unavailable and specify how soon you can be reached and who can be contacted in your absence. That way, people won’t get upset. They will know what to expect and what to do. Healthy boundaries are effective and essential if you want to be productive during your work hours.

10. If you are someone who struggles to find time to read and answer emails, consider getting up half an hour early each day and focus these extra 30-minutes on your messages. I promise it will be well worth the initial effort! Consider the stress you feel when you are not caught up; add the time wasted when people have to keep sending you reminders; and add the negative consequences for you and others when things are not handled… See, you can’t afford to let your inbox be out of control. Make email management a priority.

I am currently developing an online course on time management and organization for higher education administrators. If you want to be notified when the course is ready and registration is open, click here and you will be the first one to know.

If you would like to speak with me about your organization, time management, or work-life balance, click here to schedule a free strategy session. Time is your most valuable resource. Once it’s spent (or wasted) you can’t get it back. It's never too soon to make positive changes. 

About the author: Since 2010 Dr. Audrey Reille has empowered thousands of professionals through one-on-one coaching, group coaching, speaking engagements, online courses, and interviews on international telesummits.  Audrey is the go-to Success Coach for leaders in higher education administration. She empowers them to thrive by reducing stress, optimizing strategies, improving professional relationships, and developing a strong and empowered mindset.