How to conquer the email inbox beast

For many of us emails form an important part of our jobs. We all know that feeling of taking a sick day or going on holiday and coming back to an inbox so full, that the number of unread emails could be used to choose your lotto numbers. I’ve been on a quest to tame the email beast and to have more time to focus on important things that produce results.  Here are some tips that will show you how to conquer the email inbox beast.

1. Send less emails and you’ll receive less emails

This might sound obvious but it is true. When you instantly hit reply in order to stay on top of things and respond quickly, ask yourself if an email is necessary. One way to send less emails, is to send one summary email at the end of the day. I started doing this for my boss and I discovered that at the end of the day, things I would have copied my boss in or asked for feedback on, were often resolved.

2. Pick up the phone

I once heard an older person say “This is the problem with your generation, you never just pick up the phone”, and while I laughed, they really did have a point. If you know that your email will require constant back and forth, sometimes it is a lot easier to give them a call. This way there will be no miscommunication, and you will save time. I find that I often think of new ideas because of something the person said, that would never have been picked up via email.

3. Use if…then

Too often email chains consist of people confirming things that could have been assumed. To avoid filling up your inbox with these types of emails, use the if…then structure. I usually use this when asking for something to be done. If you can do this by the deadline then just send it to me on the due date. If you can’t do this, then let me know why and propose a new due date. This way I will either receive work that I need or a new date on which I can expect work.

4. Don’t check email as you get into work

Most people start their day by checking their email because this way you will know what’s going on. While at first it was so tempting for me to start my day this way, I tried the alternative. I started with my most challenging projects first and only checked my email afterwards and then again in the afternoon. You are most fresh in the morning and spending your energy on a menial task like checking email is wasted energy. I thought I would miss out on so much, but like I discovered, most of the issues had sorted themselves out and didn’t need a response.

While these steps might seem counter intuitive, the truth is that emails take up way too much time, and by spending less time on email you actually become more productive. I have friends who check their email as soon as they wake up and on weekends. Why? If something needs your attention it can usually only be sorted out at work, which will either be a few hours or days away. It has taken me about a year to get this right, and before this I actually prided myself on being able to always leave work with an empty inbox. I had become efficient at answering emails but not really more productive. I am still efficient at answering emails, but I get a lot less and have more time for projects.

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