Everyone I know complains that they receive too much email, so much so that I have come to think of email overload as a modern day epidemic. I have seen people read and respond to emails at the oddest of times: during an appointment with a doctor, while on a treadmill in a gym, or, this one beats it - racing away on a highway at 50mph.
Quite evidently, dealing with email overload can not only improve our efficiency at work, it can also have a significant contribution towards living a healthy, long life!
Managing your email overload does not require complex, unnatural workflows. Nor does it require fancy, expensive tools. What it requires is a bit of discipline, discretion and proactive usage of tools that are already present in your email inbox. Just try what we're suggesting below, and you'll see your email overload drop down to half of what it is right in a couple of days.
Check your email only at fixed times during the day
Agreed, you get a lot of email. But answer this simple question: How many of the emails that you get everyday require you to respond to them immediately, or within, say a couple of hours? I am sure that for a lot of us, that number would be very very small. If that is the case for you, what stops you from switching off email notifications on your phone and computer, closing your email program or browser, and getting to your real work?
Lets face it - email is a great distraction. It lets us get away from work, without letting us having the guilt of not working. Its like Facebook, only that it feels like work. We wrote about it at length here: Email Overload? Its email OCD!
Do this now - schedule some fixed times during the day to check your email. What works for me is 9:30 AM, 2 PM and 5PM. Choose for yourself, stay away from email for the rest of the day, and see the difference.
Use labels/folders proactively
How often do you try to find an email or attachment in your inbox and fail to locate it quickly? How frustrating is that, really?
Email inboxes are now our most important information store-houses. We have our lives archived and stored in email inboxes. We go to our inboxes to find important emails, flight and concert tickets, phone numbers, addresses, discount coupons and what not. If there is anything that can help us locate stuff quickly, it can help save a lot of frustration. Folders and Labels are a great way to do that.
No matter what email program you use, You'll have folders or labels available to you. Gmail has an excellent system of labels, and recently folders tool. Outlook, Thunderbird, Mail.app etc. have folders. Quickly attaching a label or moving an email to a folder can help find that email/attachment quickly later on. Start with Just one label/folder, called "Important", and move an email to that folder/label if it has anything that you might need later. When you need to find stuff, only search within that label, and you'll see time to find the right stuff reduce to less than half.
And once you start using labels in your Gmail extensively, do checkout our excellent gmail label sharing service - can help you and your colleagues collaborate smoothly.
Use Gmail's smart labels
Spam is almost dead. Recent studies show spam is now on a very fast decline as email services and clients get better at detecting and eliminating spam. What bothers us now is stuff that is not spam, but yet, should not be showing up in our email inboxes very often. Examples? Facebook notifications, discount coupons, email newsletters etc. You get the drift - essentially anything that a human did not write to you.
If you are on any other email services, there are a lot of other services that can help you keep such emails out of your way. Just try out OtherInbox, Sanebox or Unrollme.
Got some other tips for dealing with email overload like a Pro? Look forward to hearing in the comments section, or you can also hit us up on Twitter at http://twitter.com/grexit
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About the author:
Niraj is the Founder of Hiver. Hiver turns Gmail into a powerful collaboration tool by letting you share your Gmail labels. When not working at Hiver on programming or customer support, Niraj likes to play guitar.
Niraj can be reached on Twitter at nirajr.