One of the biggest stress points for many people is email. Notifications constantly pop up, we’re always connected and accessible with smartphones, and our inboxes get cluttered very quickly. If you don’t manage your inbox, it’s very easy to get overwhelmed, stressed out, or even miss important emails or forget about tasks. In this article I provide some tips for improving your email habits to help reduce stress and make work easier for you.
Make Use of Tools you Already Use
Many people use a variety of email software tools – from Microsoft Outlook and Apple Mail to email apps on their smartphones. For a lot of individuals they use the basics of the tools – sending and receiving emails – but don’t go any further. Most of these software systems are quite robust and can handle a variety of tasks for you. The first step in improving your email management is an organization system. Within Outlook you can create folders, use flags, or create tasks with calendar reminders to help organize your to do and follow up lists. For me, folders are the most important part of keeping my inbox organized, I have folders and subfolders for each project that I work on. This helps keep my inbox clean and gives me an easy way to find information I need.
- Create folders for projects, different departments, etc.
- Use Flags to get a visual reminder of follow up
- Use Tasks to set calendar reminders and priorities
Turn off Notifications and Shut Down Email
One of the biggest productivity sinks in my work day is going off task when I get an email notification. I get a notification on my computer, which visually pulls my eyes away from the task I’m working on, as well as two notifications on my phone (a badge and a vibration). If I choose to deal with it immediately this will take at least 5 minutes to read and respond to the email as well as potentially further derail me if I use this as an opportunity to check social media. One strategy is to set aside specific time blocks for checking and responding to email and shutting down Outlook otherwise. For some this may not be able to turn email all the way off, but you can still adopt a strategy of setting aside times to check and only immediately respond to urgent emails.
- Turn off notifications
- Set aside time each day for checking and responding to emails
- Only respond immediately to urgent emails
Active Inbox Management
When I respond to an email I take one of two actions – file it in the appropriate folder or flag it for follow up. If my response closes the loop and there are no more action items for me to follow up on I file the email immediately. If there is future follow-up or I need to remind myself of that conversation I keep it in my inbox and flag it. This basic system has helped me organize my inbox and significantly reduce work related stress. I also actively use my Outlook calendar for time blocking, setting appointments for follow-up and reminders to make sure that what I say I’ll get done in email will actually get done. My goal every week is to keep less than five emails in my inbox at any given time.
Importance of Organized Email
Workplaces are increasingly shifting to paperless. At Mentor Works we try as far as possible to be paperless, and because of this it is even more important to have an organized inbox and a system for task management. One of the biggest skills I’ve been able to develop at Mentor Works is effective time management and planning. When I build out my weekly, monthly, and quarterly calendar I build in gaps to maintain flexibility and regular tasks (like scheduled email times, follow up times, and regular tasks). This has allowed me to reduce work-related stress, keep me organized, and improve my productivity.