5 essential tips for mastering your inbox

How many of your employees require email? Now, multiply that number by 2.6 (I’ll explain why later). Multiply that total by your average hourly wage. Have a number? Get ready.

This is your total dollars spent daily on email management. If it seems excessive, you’re not alone. According to a recent study, inbox processing is the most time-consuming office activity besides the job’s actual tasks. With an average of 2.6 hours spent daily on email, that’s 27 days per employee per year.

Is email the problem? No, it’s still crucial to remote business communication – especially in the digital workplace. However, mastering the inbox promotes a happier, more relaxed employee and a more efficient workplace.

That boils down to better time management, increased productivity, and greater savings. We’ve created a guide with solutions for slaying the email dragon and mastering a tool that isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.

Aim for Inbox Zero perfectionism

Productivity expert Merlin Mann pioneered this scrupulous method for keeping your inbox empty. Inbox Zero doesn’t necessarily mean an empty inbox; the goal is spending zero time and effort on maintenance. When a message is opened, Mann suggests five questions to determine a proper response:

Does this require an immediate response? If it can be typed in less than two minutes, reply.

Does it require an immediate action? If it takes less than two minutes, do it.

> See also: Don’t let email attachments become your weakest link

Can it be delegated to someone else capable of doing it better?

Does it require more than two minutes, or can’t be delegated? Defer to a Follow Up folder and make time for it later.

Do you truly need it? Delete as many old, new, and forgotten messages as possible.

Budget time for max efficiency

Constant connectivity allows employees to do business anytime, anywhere. As more work is done remotely, it’s important to question: How should you budget your time to avoid constant open office hours? Multitasking actually hurts your brain, so if you want to stay on task and focused:

Plan your day in blocks of time, including breaks.

Schedule a period every few hours to process new emails. Don’t leave your inbox open indefinitely or messages unopened. When you open an email, do something with it.

Focus on tasks at hand, spending as little time online as possible.

Start and end your day at the same time to promote healthy rhythms.

Know what to email

Face-to-face time is important, so don’t rely on email as your only communication in the office. Doing so could actually slow down business.  But if you have to email, make it concise, relevant, scannable, and actionable. These simple steps ensure emails get read and stay professional:

Make the subject descriptive, yet action-oriented.

Be short and concise. If the subject requires 10 messages, schedule a meeting offline.

If you’re requesting immediate action, opt for a face-to-face.

Bold direct mentions in group emails, or separate action items and questions for emphasis.

Make email folder management easy

Folder management will help you quickly filter your inbox tasks and save time finding important notes and conversations. When filing emails, simplicity is best. Keep your emails filed in no more than three folders, or things could quickly get out of hand.

Too many folders can be exhausting and lead to duplication of work. This trusted file system is a handy solution:

Follow Up: Emails go here if they require a follow-up or action of longer than two minutes. You will manage this folder more frequently, taking a few minutes of daily downtime to clear out your to-dos.

Reference: Materials and important closed conversations should be filed here for a searchable library of resources.

Hold: This optional folder organises important messages that you’ll need within the next few days.

Be smarter with project management

Email is not made for collaborating on work and project management, so don’t use it that way.  Information becomes buried in endless threads, causing confusion. Attachments make teamwork difficult. Team members get left out of the loop on crucial information. Email is meant for communication, not assigning tasks, managing projects, and creating alignment.

> See also: Why neither email nor chat work in a modern workplace

Collaborative work management software like Smartsheet takes the discussion out of email and into shared documents, project tracking, and task management.  

Because it’s familiar like Excel, with added alerts and reminders to keep team members on track, you’ll have an easier time controlling your work and managing your teams, allowing you to follow what’s happening and hold everyone accountable.

Calendars, Google App integration, Gantt charts, reporting, mobile support, and resource management are all powerful collaborative tools that will keep everyone aligned and drive results.

We know email isn’t going anywhere, but there are easier ways to make email work for you, not the other way around. Take advantage of these tips, and consider implementing an online collaborative work management solution that minimises time spent on email and maximises productivity.

Sourced from Mark Mader, CEO, Smartsheet


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Ben Rossi

Ben was Vitesse Media's editorial director, leading content creation and editorial strategy across all Vitesse products, including its market-leading B2B and consumer magazines, websites, research and...

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