Five ways to detox your inbox

Email inbox
Stef Scott By Stef Scott, Senior Digital Editor

19 January 2016

CEOs and other business leaders can receive in excess of 100 emails a day. It can be easy to send endless emails without actually improving our productivity. If this sounds like you, it’s time to adopt a more streamlined approach to managing your inbox. Here’s how.

1. Get organised

If you have lots of emails sitting in your inbox, it’s likely that you’ll waste time looking for specific messages and replying to them. Email overload is often the symptom of a larger problem: a lack of effective systems and processes to manage email effectively.

The first step in decluttering your inbox is to set up a comprehensive filing system of folders where you can keep your work organised. Whether you want to name these folders so that they correspond to specific clients, projects or months of the year, it’s up to you. The important thing is to use a system which makes sense, and where you can easily retrieve messages once you’ve filed them. File messages that are ‘for information’, and only keep messages that need a reply in your inbox.

2. Turn off email notifications

There is nothing more distracting than a constant stream of beeps and pop-up notifications alerting you to the fact you’ve got new email. Stopping what you are doing to check every new email that comes in interrupts your workflow and can leave you feeling unfocused. If you know you have new emails waiting, your brain gets distracted. For example, a recent study shows that it can take up to 20 minutes for us to regain previous levels of concentration if we are distracted from a task.

Although it might be hard at first, turning off all email notifications on your PC and push notifications on your phone will give you back control over your inbox. If you find it hard to go cold turkey right away, try turning off your notifications for an hour or so first, and then gradually increasing the duration over time to help you get used to working in a new, more efficient way.

3. Check emails at set times

The next strategy you can use to manage your email more effectively is to only check your inbox at set points during the day. Breaking the habit of replying to emails as soon as they come in lets you focus on working through your to-do list. Whatever you may think about your ability to multi-task, research shows that trying to do two or more things at once actually reduces your efficiency and the tasks take longer to complete.

It is important to come up with an approach that works for you, and which meets the requirements of your role. Schedule in specific blocks of time when you will read and respond to email. You can put these in your diary as ‘busy’ to protect that time. As an example, you may decide that you’ll work on your emails for 45 minutes in the morning, just before lunch, and then again at the end of the day.

4.  Take specific action

Once your email folders are set up and you have allocated specific times to deal with your inbox, it’s time to adopt a more pragmatic approach. There are four actions you can take with your emails: delete, handle, delegate or file. Look at each email in turn and decide what you need to do with it.

Try to get into a routine for your email time. For example, close down other tabs or documents so you are not tempted to stray onto other things. Although it might not always be possible, try not to book any meetings or appointments for this time, and divert calls if you can.

5. Send fewer emails!

Many organisations have a culture where sending endless is the norm, and this can have a destructive impact on productivity right across the business. If this sounds like your organisation, you can take steps to improve things. Send fewer emails, and encourage your team to do the same. This might take a bit of getting used to, but it’s important for senior managers to lead by example.

For starters, only send an email if it is absolutely necessary – before sending that email consider if you can resolve the issue by picking up the phone to discuss the issue. Another good tip to cut down on the volume of emails is to never use email for urgent issues – if you need a response in a short timescale, go and speak to the person concerned.


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