How to tame your email inbox

Sheila Chandra - Thursday, August 31, 2017

A third of workers say they suffer from email stress. This is a serious problem, especially for creative people who need lots of clear space to concentrate on their artworks. Here are 9 ways to stop you having to delete all your messages, declare ‘email bankruptcy’ and start again…

  1. Delete spam immediately -  Scan the subject heading and delete anything you know is spam without opening it. The minute you do open it, the sender can verify that yours is a valid address and target you some more. If you actually click on a link in a junk message, you open yourself up to a nasty virus. Don’t go there.
  2. Get a spam filter, an anti spy-ware programme and a good anti-virus firewall.-  Don’t download your email or go surfing without protection. You can buy programmes which filter spam so that you get less of it to deal with. The spyware programme will deal with those tracking ‘cookies’ that websites plant on your computer whilst you search so that they can target you again. And the firewall is going to protect you if you can’t resist clicking on one of those links…
  3. Be disciplined about checking email - So many cool gadgets on which you check your emails? That’s half your problem. Don’t let yourself be constantly interrupted or fall into the trap of thinking that emailing is the only valid form of work you do. Try to check your emails no more than 3 times a day and allow a dedicated session for dealing with them each time. Email always feels urgent, but for self-employed creators, you generally have at least 24 hours to get back to someone (in a non-emergency situation). Give yourself a chance to concentrate effectively on other tasks. In addition, get into the habit of unsubscribing to any email-shots that you’re no longer really interested in. Be ruthless!
  4. Think before you cc. - Get into the habit of making sure your email is only copied to people who really need it. That way, your colleagues won’t get into the habit of ignoring messages from you because they’re usually irrelevant to them.   
  5. Think before you send - Got into the habit of forwarding jokey emails or socialising via email? All your friends will think you’re up for sharing every viral message that hits their inbox. What you send them gives them an unconscious message about what kind of mail you’re open to receiving.    
  6. Say what you mean - Email is easy to misread, so be as clear about what you are asking for as you would if you were writing a letter. Check your spelling and grammar, be polite and don’t use capitals (unless you’re intending to shout…). It’ll mean you’re more likely to get what you want first time. A useful trick is to bold/italicise any sentence that summarises what you mean or questions you need answers to. That way the person receiving it can just glance over your email to get the gist and send you what you need.   
  7. Set up an email In-tray - There’s nothing more overwhelming than trying to sort the messages you really need to give a proper reply to, from the trivia and junk hanging around in your inbox. Even if you clear it, the junk just cascades back in the next time you log on. Set up an ‘In-tray’ by creating a new folder and typing ‘@IN-TRAY’. This will get it listed above all your other storage folders. That way you can drag the important stuff to it immediately so that you can work on it in peace when you’re ready, and see what you need to do at a glance.   
  8. Sort your sent mail - Don’t forget to sort your sent mail. If you’ve promised to act on something, drag the message to your @INTRAY to remind you to do it. If the sent message is a query, set up an @PENDING tray in the same way as before, which you can drag it to, so that you can check here regularly and keep tabs on what you’re waiting for.    
  9. Know when not to use email - Sometimes sorting out a lot of details or a misunderstanding is best done on the phone or face to face. It takes far less time than a lot of email exchanges and leaves a better impression. Think about the times when the personal touch will get you a better result in the long term.    

For more information on how to organise your emails and manage your work tasks, read the two home office chapters in 'Banish Clutter Forever’ . Download a free excerpt!

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