Email offers a lot of benefits. It's quick, accessible, and can save a lot of time that would be spent on back-and-forth phone calls or in-person meetings. The problem is that email is overused and misused; the resulting email overload can quickly eliminate all the time saved and cause productivity to plummet.
To benefit from email and keep it from becoming a burden, follow these six principles.
Always Filter Not all email needs a response, or even a glance; if it's all flooding into your inbox, however, you have to view, decide, and act on every single email, even if that action is just to delete or archive the message. Use filters to set concrete limits on what even makes it into your inbox. For reference-only emails, such as bank statements, set up filters to send the emails to an appropriate folder. For those emails you don't want but can't avoid, like Aunt Judy's weekly update and your boss's endless CCs, se t up a filter and a folder.
Reduce the Inflow Unsubscribing takes a moment or two and can clear a lot of unnecessary clutter from your email life. Use a tool such as unroll.me to make it even simpler. There's no need for you to keep sorting through the digital equivalent of junk mail. Say no to email notifications from apps and social media; you're going to check in on your social accounts anyway. There's no point in receiving an email about it, too. Organize Your Email Some people prefer a complex system of labels, hierarchical folders, and infinite categorization. Others prefer a simple system that sorts email into the most basic possible groups (such as Needs Action, Needs Reply, and Archived). It doesn't matter what kind of organization you use. Just figure out which kind you like (complex or simple), implement it, and use it. Navigating and keeping up with email becomes much simpler when you use an organization model that makes sense to you.
Reduce the Outflow Quit responding to emails you get that you don't actually need. Fight the impulse to send a one-line response ("Thanks for the info" or "Got it" ). When you respond, you're telling the sender that you approve the email, and want more. Is that what you want to say? Start to notice repeat offenders: there are just some folks who continually send useless emails. Take a few minutes to respond to the latest one with a kind but clear message: "Thanks for your thoughfulness, but this is information I don't really need. Would you please remove me from your sender list? Thank you!" For the ones who still don't get it, use a filter.
Handle Your Inbox To zero or not to zero; that is the question of the inbox. Some people swear by inbox zero; they like to clean it out daily or weekly. Others see no need to try to achieve a clean inbox. Search queries can sort out what's there, and cleaning it out regularly takes more time than it's worth. As with organization, the key is for you to decide what works for you, then stick with it.
Use Some Rules A few basic email rules can save you much email frustration. The two-minute rule: if will take only a few minutes, respond to it right away. The email-time rule: designate a few times a day to handling email, and leave it alone the rest of the time. True emergencies will find you via other methods. People will learn what to expect if you are consistent. The informative-subject rule: make the most of the subject line, using it to ask the main question, designate a needed response, and otherwise make it easy for people to respond as quickly as possible.
Email isn't going away, but you don't have to lose your entire day to it. Remember it's a tool; how you use it is what makes it burdensome or effective.