Falling Into Email Abyss?
By Paris Love
I was working with a client recently (let’s call her Amy), who reported her email inboxes were overflowing.
In our telephone coaching meeting, I asked Amy how many emails were in her inbox right now.
She responded, “Which email account? I have four.”
“Why do you have four email accounts?” I asked.
I heard her clicking her keyboard in the background.
“Well, I have an old Hotmail account – 927 emails in that one. It’s really just my ‘junk’ email account. I also have a Gmail account that some of my clients use and some of my friends, too – 342 emails in there. I handle customer service emails for a client, so I have another Gmail account for that. That one only has 238 emails in it. And I recently set up a business Gmail – 486 messages.”
“Are there any e-mails in those accounts unread?” I queried.
Keyboard clicking. “Yes,” she said dejectedly, “quite a few.”
Hmm, I thought, this calls for the organizing queen and some powerful email management techniques. I figured Amy and I would need a pretty solid system to clean this one up.
If you are like “Amy” and have fallen into the great email abyss — missing important messages, wasting time reading unimportant ones, or just plain giving up — there is hope. Here’s a plan of action that will help you harness your email overload.
Start with a clean slate
The first step is to create a folder with the current date in each of your accounts and empty your email inboxes (except the current date) into it. Most email platforms offer folder options. By emptying your email, you’ll create a fresh start that is psychologically empowering. If you choose to go back to these folders at some point for review or reference, you can.
Two accounts, maybe three, are plenty
One email account for business and one for personal is the ideal set up. This way, you can eliminate two of your email accounts. You don’t need one for clients and one for business – these can be melded into one. You can maintain one of your accounts for personal use only and keep another for business and clients, separating the two by using folders within the same account. Handling emails for a client is fine, but this is better managed through an email account held by the client that you can then check in on twice a day.
The more email accounts, the more likely the buildup of emails. Three is plenty; two is better.
Set up a system
Now, it’s time for you to set up a system for going through your emails every weekday. Just like with a paper inbox, you should read the email or subject line and decide on one of five actions:
- Delete: Get rid of anything that does not require a response and is not particularly important. PC World’s Jill Duffy explains: “Leaving unimportant messages in your inbox is highly unproductive, distracting, and only reminds you of what you would like to do in a perfect world but can’t.”
- Unsubscribe: Remove your name from retail or other subscriptions that are not necessary.
- Respond: Reply to any emails that require a quick and easy response.
- Mark for action: Flag emails that require multiple actions by or someone else before responding
- Save to File: Save emails that may be necessary for future use or reference in an email file or folder
A realistic goal to set for yourself is to keep your inbox – in any account – at fifteen emails or less at any given time.
Use your email features wisely
Most email platforms come with several features that can help you automatically organize your inbox. Use auto-filters and auto-filing features. This way, emails are grouped by specific recipients, clients, family/friends, or can bypass your inbox and go right into a designated folder (like the articles you know you should read, but can’t get to right away). It becomes easy to find needed emails and prioritize your reading this way. It takes a little time to set up some folders and to move the emails that you need to save, but it helps exponentially when you are culling your inbox each day.
Try a coding system
Many email providers offer a color-coding or other symbolic system to help you either assign or identify an email by category. For example, for a particular client named Jones, you can assign a color code to the Jones project and use that color for all e-mails related to it. Or you can do this with tags, stars, or labels as well, whereby you assign a tag or label to emails that require action, which allows you to easily recognize what the message is about.
Explore and experiment
Review your email provider’s services so you can see all the options available to you and decide which will work best for your email organization system. Just like paper filing, there are several ways to organize your email. If you use Gmail, try exploring Google’s App Learning Center for some new ideas. Other platforms have help and app centers as well. A little time up front can make checking your daily email so much easier!
Consider separate e-mail management software
A number of email management software applications, both free and for purchase, are available. The Wall Street Journal reviewed postbox, while many searches bring up Mozilla’s Thunderbird application. These apps generally help to organize your email and make usage easier. Some software, like postbox, actually pulls out the important part of your emails for you! There are several other options as well, but ensure your email management software comes from a reputable software company you recognize.
Give your email some undivided attention
If you’re constantly checking your email at your desk or on your mobile device, chances are you’re not doing anything with the email at that particular moment. You’re just looking at it and then leaving it there, which is likely the root of your problems. Plan on dealing with your email once in the morning and once at the end of the day ONLY. Use the system noted above to decide what to do with each email, but NEVER just read an email and do nothing.
Think of your email just like a paper inbox – imagine an office desk with 548 messages piled on it. Don’t let it get that far. By actively managing your email accounts, your life will be more organized, less stressed, and you’ll never miss an important message.
Author, Coach, Speaker, Paris Love specializes in helping women entrepreneurs organize their goals and intentions into achievable bite-sized pieces so they restore their quality of life that’s infused with meaningful work and wealth. To learn more about her life’s work and business visit her website at www.ParisLoveInstitute.com or by calling 770-722-2748.