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6 Inbox Management Tips From the EEC

The Email Experience Council has assembled this list of seven email management tips to help you reduce inbox congestion and frustration:

1. Take action when you receive an email.

  • Whenever you open an email, resolve to take one of the following four actions:
    • Delete/Archive: If the email requires no action, then either delete it or archive it for later reference.
    • Reply: If you can quickly respond to the email, do it so you can delete or archive the email.
    • Forward: If there's a more appropriate person to respond to the email, forward it on to them.
    • Set a Reminder/Add to Calendar: If the email requires action at a later date, set a reminder—or if the action has to occur at a specific time on a certain day, add the event to your calendar.
  • Use mobile email to handle deletions and quick replies and forwards when you're away from your computer.
  • If you're returning to your inbox after a few days away, try sorting your inbox by sender to identify chains of emails from the same people and to respond to the most current email in each chain.

2. Respect other people's inboxes.

  • Don't CC people unnecessarily.
  • Don’t reply to all if the reply is only relevant to one or two of the people on the email.
  • Unless confirmation of receipt is needed, try to avoid sending gratuitous “Thanks” replies.
  • Make it easy for recipients to act on your emails by using subject lines that are descriptive and specific. Consider beginning your subject lines with words like "FYI:," "Reminder:", "Urgent:" and "Action Needed:" to help recipients quickly understand if action is needed and if so, how quickly.
  • If you know that a coworker is out of town, don't send them email. Instead, save those emails as drafts and set a reminder to send them once the person returns.

3. Organize your inbox.

  • Set up rules in Outlook so that emails that you get regularly from a particular sender (such as newsletters and alerts) are automatically routed to a particular folder and kept separate from your normal flow of emails. Reserve your inbox for incoming messages and messages that you will act on in the near-term.
  • Set up multiple folders to help sort and archive the emails you want to keep.

4. Actively manage your email newsletter subscriptions.

  • Ensure that your newsletters are delivered to you by adding the "from" address to your address book or safe sender list.
  • Update your preferences to ensure that you're getting the most out of your email subscriptions. Many marketers offer preference or subscription centers that allow you to manage your subscriptions, select topic preferences and even control how frequently you receive emails from them.

5. Moderate your inbox exposure.

  • Set your email program to check for new messages once every half-hour (or whatever time interval works for you). Email can be interruptive, so give yourself time to focus on other tasks.
  • Turn your email off sometimes to give yourself uninterrupted time to work on projects.
  • Check your RSS feeds once a day or even once a week, depending on how crucial they are to your job.

6. Help fight spam.

  • Keep your anti-virus and anti-spyware software up to date to avoid becoming part of a botnet. The vast majority of spam today is created by botnets, which are networks of computers that have been taken over by hackers for a period of time and used to send spam.
  • Never reply to a spam message or click on the links in them, which could load viruses, malware and other harmful software onto your computer. Spam exists because a small percentage of people ignore the dangers and respond to spam messages. Don't do it—EVER.

Personally I use the "Getting Things Done" method to keep my inbox as empty as possible. I answer those emails that I can answer is less than 2 minutes immediately and I add the ones that need more time to my to-do list. The rest I archive or delete.

Tip: when you have a tendancy to archive each and every email, try to set up different PST files per topic rather than 1 PST file for all. Why? A PST file that is bigger than 1GB is very likely to become corrupt after a while and then you loose everything.

Do you have some tips of your own? Share them in the comments!

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