What can you do to take control of a flooded inbox? No doubt you've been tempted to simply delete all existing messages and wipe the slate clean. But what if you lose an important message from a client or a critical email from your boss? And, more important, how do you keep your inbox from getting clogged again a few weeks from now?
To better manage your email on a routine basis, try these suggestions from Sue Hershkowitz-Coore
. 1. Take it in chunks.
In an ideal world, you'd be able to carve out an hour or two to sift through those hundreds of old messages you marked as "unread" and planned to get to later. In the real world, that's probably not going to happen, so take this project in bite-sized chunks. When you find yourself with five minutes here, 15 minutes there, use the time to clean your inbox. 2. Delete with confidence.
Your first step is to delete all those old emails you know you'll never answer. Start with the oldest messages first and be honest with yourself – if you haven't needed to refer to the email in several months, or you're not going to respond any time soon, just delete it. 3. Group and reply.
After you're done deleting, go through your emails by subject. Look for all the emails on one topic – your upcoming sales training event, for instance, or a pending negotiation with a certain client – and handle them all as a group. When you've replied to them all, delete the ones you no longer need, and put the rest into a folder on that topic. Then move on to the next subject. 4. Get a system.
Once you've regained control of your inbox, figure out a system that works for you and stick with it. Some people work best if their emails are routed directly into very precise folders and they can tackle one folder at a time. Others work better when their messages come into a central location and they can see everything lined up in front of them. Some people like shifting emails to very simple files like, "Do by the end of the day," or "Do by the end of the week." Others might prefer creating files numbered 1 to 31, corresponding with the days of the month, and shifting emails into the appropriate folder, depending on when they need to be addressed. 5. Manage it.
Always remember that you must manage your in-box; don't let it manage you. Set a schedule for looking at email. Hershkowitz-Coore's suggestion: Do your first check when you come in for the day and handle the urgent emails right away. Check for new ones again at 10:00 a.m., after lunch, and at 4:00 p.m. You don't always need to provide an instantaneous reply to every customer email. Rather than shoot off a hurried reply without thinking, strive to respond in a timely manner. It's very likely that customers will appreciate a thoughtful email more than a speedy one.