6 Tips to Tame Your Inbox and Be More Productive

Here's how to manage your email so you can get more done and feel less stressed every day.

“Mom. Mom? Mom!”

If you’ve done a stint as a parent or caregiver, you’re probably familiar with this frustration — the repeated interruption from young kids. But if you think about it, the dings and visual alerts from your emails are even more relentless.

After all, kids grow up and stop interrupting their parents. Email just keeps coming.

American white-collar workers spend 5.4 hours each weekday checking email, according to Adobe’s latest annual email survey. That’s a startling number — equal to 27 hours weekly.

We’ve become so accustomed to checking email — not to mention Facebook, Twitter and other social media networks — that we respond automatically, conditioned like Pavlov’s dogs.

What to do? The best advice — because most of us can’t afford to disconnect altogether — is to check email less often. But that advice is hard for many of us to follow. So, consider these ideas for taming the deluge of email:

1. Unsubscribe

No, you can’t ignore messages from your boss, key team members and other critical work influencers. But do you really need to subscribe to sale alerts from your favorite retailers? Or updates on your social media activity?

Ruthlessly unsubscribe, advises Monica Seeley, author of “Brilliant Email: How to Win Back Time and Increase Your Productivity,” speaking to the Huffington Post.

Yes, unsubscribing takes time, but it saves time in the long run.

One other idea: Establish an email account strictly for “junk” or “fun” emails and keep all alerts silent. Check that account only as time allows.

2. Install a productivity app

Newton, SaneBox and Streak are among the apps and tools that allow you to prioritize and filter email, automatically respond and more. But these helpers won’t succeed without your plentiful input.

“You — the user — are in control,” Mark Hurst, a consultant and the author of “Bit Literacy: Productivity in the Age of Information and E-mail Overload,” told the Huffington Post. “The human is the most important part of the system — not the latest tool, not the latest feature. And as long as people abdicate that responsibility [of email management] to the technology, they will remain stressed and overloaded and anxious.”

3. Respond smart

First, turn off audio and visual alerts for emails. Then set a time of day at which you will respond, said Gail Kinman, professor of occupational health psychology at the University of Bedfordshire, in Luton, England.

That sounds easy, but how do you make sure you don’t lose business by not immediately responding to an email from an important client — or your boss? Use email tools to automatically respond to messages and tell them when to expect a response, Kinman told Inc.

An example of such a message would be: “I have left the office for the day, but will return at 9 a.m. tomorrow and will respond as soon as possible after that time.”

4. Triage

After you respond to the urgent emails, file away messages that don’t need a response and flag those that need follow-up, said Marsha Egan, author of “Inbox Detox and the Habit of Email Excellence.” She explained in an article on Forbes.com:

“Create folders within your inbox, sort the emails that need action, and then set a calendar alert to remind you when to revisit any deadline-oriented messages.”

Hint: That’s where productivity apps help.

5. Don’t delete

Some people keep email in their inbox for fear of losing it. But as long as you don’t delete such emails, you should be able to find them again using search features.

So, instead of leaving them in your inbox or deleting them, archive emails that you want to hang onto, recommended the Harvard Business Review.

6. Change your thinking

Think of your physical mailbox — the one in which you get your physical mail. You don’t check it 20 times a day. You don’t let the day’s mail dictate your entire schedule. And you don’t take the mail out, look at it and return it to the mailbox.

If you develop a similar attitude about your email inbox, you’ll reduce stress and boost productivity.

Email is a fact of life, but start with these strategies to control it so it doesn’t control you.

What tricks have you learned for taming the flood of email and other electronic interruptions? Share with us in comments below or on our Facebook page.

Jim Gold contributed to this post.

Nancy Dunham
Nancy Dunham @NancyDWrites

Nancy Dunham is a freelance journalist based in the Washington, D.C., metro area.

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