Digging Out of Your Inbox

03-14-2017
Terra Vicario

Like the rest of New Jersey, New York, and the Northeast U.S., I woke up this morning to a foot of snow* covering everything in sight (*rough estimate: I am not going outside to actually measure it).  All I kept hearing about yesterday was how the snow was going to accumulate one or two inches every hour, piling up and keeping us all trapped inside.  And I guarantee no one wants to try to dig through it just yet, so we’ll just put it off until we absolutely have to leave our houses.

Thankfully, blizzards like Winter Storm Stella don’t happen too frequently.  But any employee working in the corporate world knows how easy it is to get “snowed in” by another culprit – email.  And digging yourself out of your inbox can honestly be harder than picking up the shovel to tackle that driveway full of snow.

How do we dig ourselves out, though?  It’s a question many can’t figure out the proper answer to.  Is there a way we can rev up a snow-blower and blast email responses out of the way, or do we have to resort ourselves to picking up the shovel and trudging through the snow until our backs hurt and our fingers go numb?

I’m no expert here, but I figured on this snowy day we could all use some tips on how to weather out the daily email blizzard.  So I’ve compiled some ideas from my best friend Google (yes, I’m a millennial), as well as from my own experience.  Turns out, there are a lot of different strategies both employers and employees can use to help manage their emails – which leads to better employee engagement in the workplace and more time to focus on the work that matters.

The Muse has some great insights into different strategies for managing your inbox, and according to co-founder Alex Cavoulacos, it basically comes down to your personality type and office lifestyle.  Obviously, we’d all like to achieve the elusive Inbox Zero, but there are definitely (realistic!) ways to manage your emails without chucking your computer out the window into the snow.

Ready to get organized?  Here are some tips to keep in mind:

If it can be tweeted, it doesn’t need to be an email

Emails are great for long-form discussions, communicating a lot of information or a complicated concept, especially to multiple people.  But for something super brief (like, say, 140 characters), communicated to your own team, that you need a fairly immediate response to?  Turn to texting.  It’s faster, more efficient, and won’t clog up your inbox with a bunch of replies.

Folders folders folders

I strongly believe that keeping everything as organized as possible is the key to not ripping your hair out before 5 pm every day.  Create a folder filing system so everything doesn’t pile up and get lost in your inbox.  Everyone has a different method for folder organization, obviously – you can go by project, by the department, by the level of urgency, depending on your situation.  Zach Hanlon over at Fast Company swears by his five-folder system that organizes emails by deadline instead.  And many email software applications, like Outlook, will allow you set up rules to automatically put certain types of emails in specific folders.

Schedule your email time

As a society, we’ve gotten a lot better at multitasking thanks to the omnipresence of technology – but that doesn’t mean that we work most effectively when we’re distracted.  Blocking out time in your daily schedule to go through your emails (folder by folder, if you use my last tip) will allow you to spend the majority of your time at work focusing on what you actually need to accomplish – without distraction.  Now obviously, certain urgent emails are bound to pop up and require your immediate attention.  But if you can get your team on board with my first texting tip, a quick “check your email because everything’s on fire!” text can point you in the right direction, without burying you under a constant snowfall of emails.

It’ll probably never be perfectly empty (sorry, fellow perfectionists), but an organized inbox strategy is one way to help you stop drowning at work and start living.  So grab a shovel and start digging – and be safe out there.  Winter is coming.

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