If you're feeling like a slave to your email inbox lately, it's time to take back control. Your email should be contributing to your overall productivity, not hindering it. Make it work for you by employing the following techniques.
The first step to getting your email under control is organizing what's already there. To do this, set up a structured folder system, and utilize your email client's filter settings. Start by creating a handful of folders with category names, such as "Accounts Payable," "Client Matters" or "Biology 101," whatever is relevant to your situation. You can then create subfolders within each category if you want to narrow the results even further. Additionally, most email clients allow setup of filters, or settings that automatically sort new emails as they are received, placing them in locations you designate. For instance, you can create a filter, or rule, in Outlook to forward any emails containing the word "invoice" to your "Accounts Payable" folder.
On any given day, your email inbox is full of emails of varying degrees of importance. To stay on top of everything, get to the most urgent emails first. Once you're done organizing your emails into folders and subfolders, take a mental stock of your inbox. Most emails can fall into three categories of importance. Category A includes your most important emails, like those from your supervisor or a client. Category B emails are important too, but not as urgent as Category A, and Category C emails include spam messages, forwarded chains, unsolicited links and other unimportant information. Treat Category A emails with urgency and Category B like you normally would, and ignore or archive Category C.
If you want to control when your email client sends and receives messages, try using an email scheduler program, such as Boomerang. You can compose an email while the information is fresh in your mind, and then allow the program to automatically send it at a time you designate. This helps prevent you from falling into a time-sucking email conversation. Boomerang can also return an opened message to the top of your inbox after a few days or a week so you don't forget to reply to it. It can even remind you if someone hasn't responded to your email message after a set number of hours or days. Boomerang is available for Gmail and Outlook; similar programs include MailButler for Apple Mail and Send Later for Outlook.
If your email inbox is cluttered with spam messages and advertisements, it can take a huge toll on your productivity just to sift through it all. To get a handle on things, begin unsubscribing to messages you didn't sign up for or don't need. Turn off unsolicited notifications from blogs, social media platforms and companies; their only purpose is to divert you back to their site. For everything else, allow the folders you've created to do their job. Have all unsolicited emails automatically sent to a folder marked "Miscellaneous" or "Advertisements," and then peruse them at your leisure. This way, they're not commanding your attention away from more important matters.
Use these tips to manage your email effectively. By organizing, prioritizing, rescheduling and reducing your email clutter, you greatly enhance your performance while drastically cutting down on distraction.
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