How to Get Control of Your Email Inbox

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Triage Your Inbox

When "checking email" is your main focus, you're letting other people dictate your priorities. Stop hitting refresh repeatedly in your inbox, and instead save hours of time (and sanity) with email triage. Email triage is a strategy for processing email in a fraction of the time. First, you want to divide emails into three camps.

For emails that are a lost cause, delete or archive them, because they are not the best use of your time. If you can tell by the subject line and sender that an email is not important, don't even take the time to open it. If you know that you will never need to reference the email in the future, delete it. If you aren't sure or know you will need it, archive it. Whenever possible, process these messages in bulk.

For emails that can be quickly addressed with the likelihood of positive outcome, defer, delegate or respond. Defer emails that are not urgent until later by moving them out of your inbox until you are ready to deal with them. Delegate the email or task with a simple forward if someone on your team can deal with it.

Finally, for emails that require time and energy for a positive outcome to occur, move them into a separate folder, star it, and then work out of your star folder. Or you can keep the "to do" emails in your inbox. The key is to ensure all the top priority messages are in one place.

Email has been likened to zombies: The more you delete (or kill), the more come to get you. Just about every professional today struggles to stay on top of email. According to a McKinsey study, U.S. employees spend 28 percent of their workweek on email, and research from the University of California, Irvine indicates that email overload can elevate stress levels and reduce focus. Add in the chaos of the modern inbox and important messages can easily get lost in the shuffle -- only 6 to 7 percent of emails actually receive a response.

Email is an integral part of working, but for far too many workers, it hurts rather than helps their productivity. They spend so much time communicating that it is difficult to get into a flow and get actual work done. Keeping email overload at bay and optimizing your inbox requires honing specific skills and developing a strategy so you control your email, rather than letting it control you.

In the following slideshow, SaneBox has identified six tips for overcoming email overload, achieving inbox zero, and boosting your productivity.


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