Email overwhelm happens to the best of us, with most of your communications arriving via inbox, quickly making it a stressful place.
Is your inbox littered with unread, un-acted upon emails, many with deadlines that have already passed? You kid yourself into thinking this is some kind of “to-do” list, but in reality, you’re just avoiding having to deal with it, because you simply don’t know where to start.
With legitimate emails that need a response? Clients, potential clients, joint venture partners, and dozens of others contact you through email, and if you don’t keep a clean inbox, sooner or later something is going to slip through the cracks, and you’ll lose a valuable opportunity.
Ask anyone who’s suffered from inbox overload and gone on to embrace a cleaner inbox and they’ll tell you how freeing it can be. Suddenly, you’re no longer a slave to your email. You don’t waste time every day searching for that one email you know you need to answer but can’t find. You don’t have to ask clients to re-send information. Best of all, you stop dreading that first onslaught of emails in the morning.
Yes, you are back in control.
Let’s start by mapping out a plan and creating a manageable system:
Clean up day, three options:
1. Will you simply delete everything so you can start fresh?
2. Will you block off a few hours to carefully scan and sort your current emails? 3. Will you use your email client filters to automatically file what you have?
All three methods work, but if you have thousands of emails in your inbox, you might just want to decide that anything before, say, last month is going in the trash. Let’s face it, if you haven’t answered that email by now, it’s probably no longer relevant.
If you only have a few hundred emails to get through, then using filters or a manual sort method will probably work for you.
Start with the obvious dead weight: advertisements, junk, marketing emails you don’t care about, and email from your mailing list subscriptions can be deleted on the spot. The same can (generally) be said about email from friends and family, notifications of comments to moderate, Facebook messages, and LinkedIn connection requests. Highlight them all, and click the delete button.
Next, look for emails from current and prospective customers. Move them to a folder called “Reply To” or something similar, so they’re out of your way but still close at hand, you’ll deal with those later.
Finally, take a look at what’s left. Chances are there’s not much, and you can deal with them on an individual basis.
Once your inbox is clean (or greatly reduced) you can go back to the “Reply To” folder and begin answering, starting either with the most urgent messages or with the oldest. The important thing is not where you begin, but that you work through the entire folder. Do not let emails collect in this folder indefinitely. That will only move your problem from the inbox to another folder, when what you’re trying to do is resolve your stress, not hide it.
After cleaning up and deleting all those emails you will feel lighter and freer.