Eliminate Email Overwhelm

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by Brenda Tringali, At Your Fingertips Organizing

You probably get lots of emails every day. The Radicati Group estimates that business users would send/receive an average 140 emails per day in 2018.

So how many emails do you currently have in your inbox? And how do you feel when you open your inbox? Do you dread opening it for fear of seeing that number (either bolded or in parentheses) next to the word “inbox”? You know what that means ... it’s the number of unread emails which translates to feelings of overwhelm, anxiety and yes, even failure!

And then there’s “Inbox Zero.” It was developed by productivity expert Merlin Mann. It's a rigorous approach to email management whose objective is to keep the inbox empty (or almost empty) at all times. According to Mann, the “zero" is not a reference to the number of messages that should be in an inbox. Instead, the word refers to "the amount of time an employee's brain is in his inbox.” His point is that our time and attention are finite and when an inbox is confused with a "to-do list," productivity suffers. So stop using your inbox as your to-do list!

Think about how many emails you feel comfortable have residing in your inbox? For some people it’s a number; for others, they don’t want to have to scroll to see all their emails. But if you currently have far more than you feel comfortable with, you need to take action in order to get them down to a more manageable number. Will it happen overnight? Absolutely not because it took you far longer to get into the email predicament that you may currently be in. But it is possible. In my opinion, to get your inbox under control requires three things: time, patience and strong decision-making skills.

Here are a few tips

  • Group together like emails so you can take inventory of what you have and determine patterns. I find that sorting them by Sender and/or Subject usually expedites the process.

  • Once sorted, determine the nature of the email. Is it a newsletter or something else that you no longer want or need? If so, before you delete all like emails, unsubscribe to nip it in the bud ... then delete. Unsubscribe and delete from as many as possible. The result (eventually) should be those emails that you want/need to keep.

  • This is also a great time for you to start thinking about what to do with emails that you’ll continue to receive. In other words, what is the end result of each email ... do you need to add it to your to-do list, respond to it, delegate it, read it or file it? Knowing what you need to do with your emails is critical to helping you decide how to handle them going forward.

  • Some people like to create folders in which to store their emails based on the end result of each email. This works well for some; not so well for others. The only thing I would caution you against is creating too many folders. You don’t want it to take you 5 minutes to decide in what folder to store an email ... that would be an enormous waste of time. With the capabilities in today’s email systems, finding an email is pretty quick and easy by doing a search.

  • Once you get your emails down to a number you’re happy with, you need to think about how to handle future incoming emails. Filters/Rules (depending on which email system you use) are great. They allow you to have an email skip your inbox and do whatever you tell it to do. These are referred to as if/then scenarios. One example is as follows: If I get an email with the word “Digest” in the subject, then skip the inbox and put it in my folder labeled “Skim, then Delete."

If you ever watched “Lost in Space,” you may recall that the Robot frequently warned Will Robinson of impending danger as I’m about to do for you. Warning! Warning! Be extremely cautious when you set up Rules/Filters! You don’t want an urgent email from your boss to end up in a folder you rarely check! 

If you’re still craving more info about this topic you can either attend my “Eliminate Email Overwhelm” class at the chamber on Thursday, June 6, from 8:30-9:30 a.m. Register for this free class. Or you can call me for a free consultation. If hired, I’ll work with you to help you make decisions about what do with your emails to get them down to a reasonable number and help you set up email management guidelines that will work for you going forward. My goal is for you to be in control of your email inbox and not have it control you!

About At Your Fingertips Organizing
Brenda Tringali provides workplace productivity and residential organizing services. She is an active member of NAPO (National Association of Productivity and Organizing Professionals). Tringali also is chair of the national NAPOCares Committee which highlights the social responsibility efforts of NAPO members. You can reach her at 603-490-6062 or Brenda@AtYourFingertipsOrganizing.com.