My inbox feels totally out of control and with it, my sense of professional and personal control has gone out the window. How do I get it back? Bob, 31, green energies broker
INBOX overload is one of the major banes of modern corporate life. It may be over 15 years since email became a part of normal working practice, but managing emailing in the most efficient, useful way is still a skill which eludes many of us. And it’s a serious problem – experts in the causes of stress cite the struggle to keep up with emails as one of the most debilitating factors they deal with, and the cost for companies is serious too.
“If you don’t manage it properly, and just keep dipping in and out of your emailing in a very unstructured way, you’ll lose about an hour a day to it,” says Dr Monica Seeley, a consultant on the effective use of email (www.mesmo.co.uk). “It can be the tipping point when you feel your entire job’s overwhelming you and you never get to the end of anything.”
She says the most important step anyone looking to get on top of their emails should take is to switch off the new mail alerts that pop up on the screen – these are simply too much of a distraction. “You need to deal with your top priority first, without being constantly bothered and reminded about emails dropping into your inbox,” she says.
Instead, set aside specific time to look at your emails, and be bold and businesslike – don’t allow yourself to be sucked into email banter and fruitless exchanges. “I don’t send thank you messages to anyone unless it’s really important to do so, in which case I really mean it,” says Seeley. “Only send replies that are essential.”
Filtering and prioritising is the key to getting the volume of emails down. The fact is, a good proportion of emails most of us receive are unimportant, and if you never see them it hardly matters. If you’re liable to receive hundreds of emails from people you don’t know, set up filters – or “rules” – which will only allow through emails from your 30-or-so most trusted contacts. The rest can be directed into another folder which you can look at – or more likely, delete without reading – when you have a spare moment.
Lastly, get talking. If you’re a manager, avoid management by email at all costs – tell
people directly what you want them to do, and encourage them to do the same.