Email overwhelms most of us and out-of-control inboxes are so typical. Most people either obsess over it or even fear to check it, all of which defeats its purpose as a communication tool. We need a better solution for inbox management.
Part of the problem is that we were never given any training on email. We were just given an email address and no operating instructions. As a result, most people use it incorrectly, which escalates our frustration in our often overwhelming work days.
The real deal behind mastering e-mail management equals mastering decision-making processes.
Email is a foundational communication tool that allows us to practice delegation. There are also people whose assistants handle all their email and that’s perfectly fine too. But if you are not doing succeeding to master your inbox management, it could be a symptom of larger decision-making and productivity issues, which are not uncommon at all, in today’s digital age.
Humans are not biologically evolved quickly enough to manage the constant flood of information and stimuli that come at us on any given day. Our brains can’t process all of the stuff coming in, so they shut down in response.
Most of the incredible communication tools we have at our disposal — cell phones, instant messaging, social media platforms — have become duties, additional tasks to manage and obligations, rather than the tools they are they were meant to be.
When used properly, email is one of the greatest productivity tools ever invented. There’s no other communication tool completely free, which enables you to be instantly in touch with people around the globe, share images and documents, and file it all. And yet, as every other bit of technology, it tends to amplify individuals’ and institutions’ tendencies. If you have good habits, technology can make them better. If you have bad habits, it will intensify those habits.
This is because the way we do anything is the way we do everything.
According to Radicati’s Email Statistics Report, business professionals sent and received an average of 116 emails per day in 2016. And that number is only increasing.
You may have heard of the concept of Inbox Zero: a technique developed by writer and podcaster Merlin Mann. Inbox Zero is essentially a structured thought process for triaging and clearing your email inbox every day.
We all have a gut instinct about which emails deserve a response and which deserve a delete — it can be hard, but learning when to say no is crucial in achieving inbox zero.
Every time we get a new email, we should ask ourselves these questions to determine what we should do with it:
- What does this email mean to me and why do I care?
- What action, if any, does this email require of me?
- What’s the best way to deal with this email and the action it contains?
Simply embrace the notion that we are scientifically designed to focus on one thing at a time. Multitasking is not an activity the human brain is capable of handling easily. The neurological term for multitasking is “context switching.” When we attempt to multitask we actually switch back and forth between tasks so quickly, we physically exhaust our brains.
Focusing on one thing at a time increases drastically your productivity.
Some more inbox management best practices:
- Project management tools such as Trello can also be a great replacement for email overload. You can immediately assign an email to a project/a person.
- Archive anything older than X (14, maybe?) days. You probably don’t need it anymore.
- Be braver and delete (better: archive, so you may feel better, knowing you can recover it anytime in the future) more e-mails. For many of us, this is the hardest action to adopt. We may love to hold on to emails. We may read and re-read and re-re-read and re-re-re-read them until we finally agree with what our gut first told us when we read the email: Delete it. This leaves emails floating meaninglessly in our inboxes, and subsequently, in our minds. It consumes valuable mental space.
- Be organised and schedule: have we set aside time for email? Set aside a recurring appointment to sift through previous days emails based on how long it usually takes us.
What email management hacks, tips and strategies do you use? Also, let me know if you have any questions. I am happy to help.