Who here struggles with an overflowing inbox?
Email is something that we deal with on a constant basis – mostly unsuccessfully.
Therefore, it’s important that we utilize our time effectively so we don’t waste time in our inboxes. Luckily there are a couple of different ways that you can handle a busy email inbox.
Touch it once
The most important rule when you’re dealing with your email inbox is to always touch your emails once. This is a rule I learned from Steve Dotto and it’s a very different approach to email from the normal approach that we take every day. Because it’s so different, here are a few ways that you can accomplish this.
Take advantage of archive
The first is to use the archive functionality in your email client to save emails that you don’t want to delete. Examples of these emails include receipts, confirmation forms, passwords, and files delivered electronically.
Delete emails you don’t want
Next you want to delete emails that you don’t actually want to store in your inbox. Examples of this include updates and responses from conversations that are outdated.
Schedule emails to go out later
The next thing to do is to make sure that you schedule emails that you want to go out later. This is important if you’re looking at your email inbox at a time when you don’t want to receive emails (for example, you check for new email late at night or early in the morning).
If you’re using Gmail (which I highly recommend), a great app to do this is a tool called Boomerang. I explain more about this app and why I recommend using Gmail in this post.
Remember what email is for
The final step is to make sure that you take your information out of your email inbox and apply it to the app of your choice. I’ll give a few examples of good apps in the next section.
Use Other Apps to Replace Email
One of the nice things about today is that we live in a time where there are so many great applications that exist for all of our communication needs.
One big reason why people get stuck in their inboxes is that they don’t try to use the appropriate tool. Email is best really for only one thing: first time communication.
Outside of that, there are plenty of apps that can do the other functionalities that email sometimes asks us to do. Here are a few of those apps.
If you’ve ever had problems with trying to manage details or organize complicated projects, Trello is your friend. My favorite feature is that you can use the Calendar power-up to ensure that you meet the right deadlines at the right time. Here’s a video on how to do this.
One of the biggest problems with email is dealing with back-and-forth conversations. It’s not very good at keeping track of who said what and keeping others in the loop.
A classic case of this is when you send an email to three people and each person replies with a different question.
Slack solves this problem by enabling people to only participate in streams when they’re involved. Plus it’s a very good at threading comments so you never have issues with clear communication (at least with notes; there are times where actually meeting face-to-face is required)
This is my go-to app for taking any sort of required information out of Email and into a place where I can always refer to it. I use this to put random bits of miscellaneous information. If there’s a particular place or topic it belongs to, I usually use Trello.
There’s no need to get Email to schedules appointment. It’s very easy set up a calendar appointment to notify you when to go. Both Gmail and Apple Mail can turn an email into a calendar event.
Sometimes the best course of action to pick up the phone and call. Especially when it’s going to be a winding and lengthy conversation, it’s usually best to speak with someone so that there’s no confusion of what needs to be done.
Send email the right way
It’s not just being able to receive emails that can help you tame your inbox. It’s also important that you know how to send emails. Here are a few tips courtesy of Guy Kawasaki.
1) Perfect your subject line
Since your email’s going to be landing in a busy inbox, it’s imperative that your subject grabs their attention and makes them want to open it. Here are two tips from on how to write a great subject line:
- Be personal. Make your subject lines personal to the person. Guy recommends referencing something about the other person so that it doesn’t look like a mass email.
- Ask a question. This tip is from Nathan Barry. Asking a question creates intrigue and encourages someone to open the email to find out.
2) No more than 5 Sentences
The shorter the email, the better your communication and the more likelihood stuff gets done. “If you’re asking something reasonable of a reasonable recipient, simply explain who you are in one or two sentences and get to the ask. If it’s not reasonable, don’t ask at all.”
3) Reduce CCs and use BCC
This one’s interesting, but it basically means don’t send emails to people who don’t need to know stuff. Especially don’t just send emails to keep people in the loop; people have busy lives and you don’t want to waste their time. “If you are going to ask a large group of people to do something, then use blind carbon copies; not only will the few recipients think they are important, you won’t burden the whole list with everyone’s email address. Nor will you reveal everyone’s email address inadvertently.”
4) Have a good email signature
A good email signature should contain your name and contact info. Two things that should be there are your phone number and the email address you’re using. Here’s why:
- The phone number is important in case the other person wants to call you to discuss something important.
- Keeping your email address is important in case the recipient forwards your email to someone else.
5) Be polite and reasonable
It’s called email because it’s electronic mail. You should write an email the way you’d write a letter to someone else. You wouldn’t write a letter in all caps and spewing all sorts of anger; don’t do it in email. “A [good] practice is that you never say in email what you wouldn’t say in person–this applies to both the sender and recipient, by the way.”
How do you handle email? Let me know in the comments below!