Procurement 18 August 2016

Five ways to stay on top of your overflowing email inbox

Does an email inbox like this send shivers down your spine?
Does an email inbox like this send shivers down your spine?

When you’re running your own business, it can be easy to find yourself drowning in emails and getting distracted from the day-to-day work that you actually need to do.

So if you never seem to be able to properly stay on top of your inbox, are there any practical steps you can take to lighten the email load? Here are five methods for managing your emails and keeping your inbox organised.

(1) Keeping your inbox at zero

If your work emails are constantly overflowing, you may find an “inbox zero” approach can be beneficial. Coined by 43 Folders creator Merlin Mann, it’s a rigorous approach to email management aimed at keeping your inbox empty – or nearly empty – at all times.

Mann suggests five possible actions to take for each message: delete, delegate, respond, defer and do. The theory is that by killing your emails as they arrive, answering them right away or filing them into a to-do system as tasks, you should then have more time to focus on the other important parts of your daily work.

(2) Pressing pause on your inbox

If you find that emails are causing a distraction when you’re trying to concentrate on a specific project – or if you just can’t resist the urge to check a new message the moment it arrives – you may want to consider installing an “inbox pause” button. Designed by productivity tool developer Baydin, it’s an app that temporarily stops the flow of email messages into your inbox, so you can check those emails at a designated later time.

Alternatively, for a less extreme method of avoiding email distractions, turning off your notifications is a good way to keep focussed on the task in hand and not on your inbox.

(3) Finishing old emails before you tackle new ones

It’s easy to procrastinate over responding to hard or difficult emails, so if that’s a problem you have you may want to check out the Yesterbox method. Developed by Zappo’s CEO Tony Hsieh, the idea is that you process yesterday’s inbox instead of today’s – so you always know how many emails you have to respond to each day.

Providing it’s not something urgent, the idea is that you’ll still respond to everything within 24 hours and you won’t procrastinate on sending a response to a tricky query.

(4) Using text expanders to save time

If part of your work is to frequently answer the same kinds of questions or send emails with similar text, you may be able to save some of that time and hassle by using a text expansion app like Text Expander or Phrase Express.

Using these apps, you can program a short phrase to automatically fill in a large amount of text, for example, typing “queryshipping” would automatically “expand” into your full shipping FAQs. Similarly, you could also develop a few canned email responses that you can set to answer specific types of messages.

(5) Defer your messages until a better time

Some emails arrive before they need your attention – for example, the tickets for next month’s conference aren’t important right now, but will be very important the day before. By setting up an “inbox snooze” feature (either directly through a native email service like Gmail, or a third party application like this one provided by Streak), you can hide messages in your inbox until a time you specify in the future, meaning they won’t clog up your inbox and distract you in the meantime.

Ed Molyneux is CEO and co-founder of FreeAgent.

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