With press releases, Evites, news stories, coupon codes, client communications, and internal messages all arriving electronically, most of us get about a gazillion emails a day. For awhile, I managed several email boxes so I could keep newsletters and group discussions separate from my main inbox. Big mistake! Now I have over a thousand unread messages in one email account, and I’m tempted to declare email bankruptcy.
Since then, I’ve been focusing on one email account that I check consistently and keep organized. I’ve found that it’s more efficient for me personally to manage one inbox than it is to jump around checking multiple accounts. Here are several strategies for staying on top of email:
Use email filtering
Repeat after me: “filters are my friend.” This handy tool can help you stay organized and control the flow of email. I use filters to automatically mark certain emails as read if I want to keep them handy but don’t want to be bothered when they reach my inbox. For instance, I subscribe to emails that offer discounts on office supplies, but I only refer to them when I actually need to order something. I can click on that filter to easily locate the newest discount code and ignore the emails the rest of the time. You can also use filters to keep track of emails pertaining to certain projects or coming from certain people. Here’s how to set up filters (sometimes also called “rules) in Mac OS X mail, Gmail, Yahoo! mail, and Outlook.
Use the email search function
Aside from filtering unimportant (or unwanted) emails, you don’t have to go too crazy with filters as long as your email program has a decent search function. As a Google product, Gmail is probably one of the most search-friendly email programs around. However, you don’t necessarily have to have a Gmail address to take advantage of its search capabilities. Here’s how to switch to Gmail without changing your email address (Gmail works for Outlook or your own domain-based email). If you must use Outlook, Xobni offers a free download that apparently makes it easier to search Outlook (full disclosure: I haven’t tried this product myself).
Disable email notifications.
That little icon in Gmail or Outlook that announces a new email message may seem convenient, but it makes it more difficult for you to focus on other tasks and encourages a Pavlovian response to emails. Few messages are truly that urgent and in most cases, if someone needs an immediate response, they’ll know how to reach you by phone or other methods. Waiting until you’ve finished a task instead of constantly clicking back to your email program will allow you to get more done and feel less enslaved by your inbox. Here’s how to disable Outlook notifications.
Delete (or unsubscribe to) emails without mercy.
I used to read every single email that crossed my inbox. Then I got a Blackberry and discovered that it’s much easier to mass delete unimportant emails than it is to wait for them to load and squint at a tiny screen trying to figure out if I should respond or flag the email or what. How do I know if an email pertains to me? I scan the subject line and the sender’s name. Most press releases, mass emails, and email solicitations get deleted en masse unless there’s something special that catches my eye. And if it’s really off-topic, then I’ll unsubscribe to save myself the trouble of deleting them in the future.
Don’t use email for everything.
Not everything requires an email. Some discussions are better suited for a quick phone call to clear up confusion or confirm details. If a phone call isn’t practical or you’d prefer to have a paper trail of who said what when, then consider using a Google Wave. This tool is now open to everyone and allows users to track tasks, share video and photos, and archive discussions, making it ideal for collaboration.
What about you? Do you use one email account or several? How do you keep emails organized?
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