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Email is Emotional

I was working with a client recently who admitted he had more than 1,200 emails in his inbox. He felt that he did not have the time to deal with all the email. He knew this was a problem, but not how much of a problem it really was. For those who worked around him, not hearing back was common, they began stopping by his office to see if he had read their email. For the customers he worked with, they often called to discuss the email since they had not heard back. Meetings did not show up on his phone calendar correctly for some reason — turns out he did not accept or decline. He just did not answer. Getting the drift here? He spent more time cleaning up the aftermath of not dealing with his email than just dealing with his email.  

I wrote a chapter for our book, How Business Gets Done titled, "Email is Emotional." In it, I suggest three tactics to employ to get caught up and stay caught up on email.

Tactics for Catching Up on Email

Tackle Your Inbox By Making Time for Email

Allocate time on your calendar every day to work on your email. I prefer doing this first thing in the morning, some around lunch and then 15 to 20 minutes at the end of the day. While you’re at it, turn off all notifications that you have email on your phone, PC and iPad. 

Use a Process to Work Through Your Inbox

There are many methods that can work, but there are three that I like the most:

  • Handle it once — Like the rule for the physical inbox of old, handle each email only once. Read each item once then act on it, make a task out of it or delete it. If the email requires action or follow-up, move it to a folder and create a task with a simple description and a reminder of the folder you placed it in along with the date you need to work on it
  • Multi-pass — Start by sorting the emails in your inbox by author. Look for those people whose relationships are key to you. Customers, management, employees. Work on those first. Start on the important items first and work your way through the "read and delete" items. 
  • Rules and automation — While not my personal choice, many people use rules to automatically move emails to a folder when they arrive. From newsletters moved to a read later folder to filing items by subject, this can be a powerful tool as long as you remember to actually act on the items.

Get a Fresh Start

There are several things you can do to get a fresh start on managing your inbox:

  • Stop the email conversations that go back and forth. Pick up the phone and solve the issue.
  • Unsubscribe from clutter emails.
  • Clean out your inbox — I know you probably just said "easier said than done" or something more colorful. Here is a one-time way to get clean. Create a new folder that is named "I WILL FIX MY EMAIL PROBLEM" and move every email in your inbox into that folder. Make sure you name it in all capital letters and make sure it is near your inbox folder so you can't miss it. 

Learn the Tool

If you are like me, you spend as much as 20 percent of your total time in a tool such as Outlook handling email. Pick up a good user manual and start reading it. I cannot tell you how many time-savers and problem-solvers I have found this way. 

When you do not reply to emails or lose emails, you communicate a lack of organization and an inability to get things done. Do not send this message to your customers or fellow employees. 

When will you start?