Let’s face it, staying on top of work emails is one of those tasks that, frankly, takes up more time than it should. And when you’ve got a million other things to do, a cluttered inbox can make you feel even more stressed. But finding any kind of solution is tricky because—well, where do you even start?
Good email management can mean the difference between a scattered inbox and a clean, clutter-free one. It’s important to engage in email management best practices at work so that you can successfully process every message that comes through. Here are some tips to help you get started:
Schedule time for emails
This might seem obvious, but many people overlook the benefit of having dedicated email time. Scheduling emails means you can give each email your full attention and craft the right response for the recipient or file it away as required. For example, you can allow 10-11am and 3-4pm to be your email processing time and avoid checking your emails outside those windows.
Work on being a better communicator
You’re probably already a great communicator, but there’s always room for improvement. Often, people will ignore an email that isn’t direct enough or is confusing, which means you might be following up or chasing up emails you thought you already sent. Try to make your emails clear by focusing on one point or topic per email, rather than sending a long email with multiple action points or task requests. An effective email is one with a clear purpose that makes it easy for recipients to respond.
Stop using emails to manage your tasks
According to Harvard Business Review, managing tasks through email is a big no-no. Many of our work tasks arrive as emails, which requires us to not only read them but also respond accordingly. The time between these two tasks will vary, and sometimes you won’t be able to reply right away but you still need to acknowledge the email.
The problem with managing your tasks through your inbox is that you have to constantly sift through emails to find or refer to anything. Email makes it tricky to follow up on due dates, know when a task has been completed, who is involved in completing the task and so on. Having a separate to-do list or task managing system in place can help prevent you from getting lost in your emails trying to figure it all out.
Email is, first and foremost a communication tool—so use it only to read and reply to your recipients, not to manage your tasks.
Use your email features
Folders, colour coding, flags and filters—all these amazing features can help you categorise and manage every email that comes into your inbox. If you haven’t taken advantage of these before, you might have to spend some time learning and implementing them into your routine.
Create templates of regular responses
If you find yourself sending the same or similar types of emails on a daily (or regular) basis, it might help to draft up some templated responses and use them moving forward. For things like employee onboarding, weekly updates etc templates are the answer to saving time!
Only open an email when you’re ready to respond or process it
If you’re checking an email on-the-go it’s easy to just open, read and then close it if you aren’t able to reply. This leaves an open loop in your mind and can add to your stress levels (even if sub-consciously). Instead, make a rule to open an email only if you’re ready to respond or file it. Avoid doing the backwards-and-forwards of opening and closing your email app trying to think of a response—it’s just not the most efficient way to get through your emails.
Use other tools for different functions
As mentioned in the first point, we often rely on email for most things such as calendar updates, setting meetings, briefing and so on. This can make our inbox look like a hot mess.
There are plenty of other useful platforms, apps and ways to communicate with our colleagues. For example Trello or Slack are great for project management and task allocation. You can also connect on Zoom to host a quick video chat, or why not take advantage of Facebook groups to share internal news with your team. There are countless options that can help you engage with your colleagues more meaningfully without having to resort to checking your (already cluttered) inbox.
There you have it, simple email management best practices to help you get a hold on your inbox. How do you stay on top of emails at work?