At the risk of jinxing myself, I finally feel like I have control over my inbox. Not just today, but in general I feel confident is saying that I manage the beast instead of it managing me. I can remember early in my career holding my breathe before I opened my inbox and doing a mental calculation of how long it would take to trudge through the mess. While there are some days I still feel overwhelmed, I can say that most days I receive between 75-100 emails, but have less than 10 messages that need responses. Here’s how I do it.
Anything that can get an immediate response, gets one. There is no reason for me to have dozens of messages just hanging out in my inbox, stressing me out, and making me think that I’m busier than I really am when a simple, “Got it, thanks!” will suffice.
Easy emails first, much like standardized testing. I was always given the advice to complete the problems that I was confident in first and then go back and work on the tougher ones. This helped prioritize emails and by getting the easy ones out of the way, I can spend the necessary time on the more complex responses. In my current position, I get 4-5 duty reports per day. Therefore, over the long weekend, I had 15 emails waiting for me. Since these require me to read, but only respond if there was an issue, they are pretty easy to read, then file away. I immediately took my inbox down by 30% with this tactic.
Teaching my team the true use of cc and bcc: I do not need to be cc’d on every single email my team sends out. I do need to be in the loop with more complex, ongoing issues that may rise to my level or if parents start to get involved. I do a quick workshop with my staff at the beginning of the year so they know when to send, when to pass and I’m not inundated with emails that don’t yet require my attention.
Folders are your friends: The moment I’m done reading and responding to an email, it gets filed away. I tend to remember emails by who sent them, so the majority of my folders are coworker and staff member names, but this may not work for you. Everyone’s brains work differently, so figure out a system that works for you!
Get your department/division on board with sending “EOM” messages: This awesome tactic asks people to write the snippet of information they need to convey into the subject line of the email, then follow it with EOM, which stands for “End of Message.” This allows the readers to get the information and delete or file it away without reading or responding. Example: “Staff meeting moved to 10:30am-EOM” This obviously doesn’t work with more complex thoughts, but for quick/short information, it is a lifesaver!
I do not respond to emails post-5pm or on weekends: My team knows that emergencies are not appropriate for emails, so if it really can’t wait until the next morning, then our professional staff member on call should be consulted. Since implementing this tactic, I’ve seen the amount of emails decrease because people are more likely to call me, stop by my office, or *shocker* try to problem solve the issue on their own. According to my evaluations, my approachability has not decreased, in fact, my team often notes they appreciate the boundaries I’ve placed so they don’t feel like they need to work all the time.
I read email subjects before I arrive in the office. This works for me, it may not work for you. It works for me because I can quickly scan the subject lines and quickly triage when needs an immediate response versus reading and sending to folders. I’m able to get a mental handle on the inbox, even when I have dozens or (after NASPA) hundreds of messages to go through.
Adjust your notification settings. I do not need an email every time someone writes on my Facebook wall, favorites a tweet, or pins something from my Pinterest boards. I’m on these mediums enough to get notifications within their platforms and it just takes up precious mental space and response time.
Make technology work for you. I use two great resources to help with email management. One is unroll.me which grabs all of the listservs you are signed up for and you can easily unsubscribe from any that are not helpful all in one place. I was shocked to learn I was getting emails from at least 150 different subscriptions! The second is followupthen which revolutionized my inbox. This service allows you to send emails to yourself or others in the future. This means if you have a letter of recommendation that isn’t due for a month, you can check your calendar, see when you have time, then send it to yourself by typing email@example.com and then you can immediately file away that email. The email will come back to your address in exactly three weeks, when you actually have time to deal with it! You can use any amount of time (minutes, days, weeks, years, next Thursday, etc.) so it is also a great reminder for things that come up every year. For example, I recently sent myself an email for one year from now to remind me to get tshirt sizes for my team, something that constantly slips through the cracks.
Utilize your personal connections in lieu of an email: Need a response from someone and their office is on the way to your next meeting? Leave five minutes early and see if they are around. Need a response from everyone and have a staff meeting later in the day? Save everyone an email and just ask during the meeting. If something doesn’t need to be formally documented, pick up the darn phone, send them a text, invite them to a gchat, etc. The more you are willing to spare the inbox of your colleagues, the more likely they are do to the same for you!
What have I missed? What works for you when dealing with the email beast?