"Be sure to file your email into appropriate folders...."
In the midst of many time and workload pressures, your inbox can easily overwhelm you if not properly managed. The most critical way to manage your inbox is to group messages in conversations. By doing this you make sure you’re replying to the latest message in a thread, rather than chasing the messages through your inbox. When emails are group conversations, this also gives the chance for teammates to reply (it’s not always on you). As part of this strategy, don’t feel the need to immediately reply to every message, but let others contribute.
Be sure to file your emails into appropriate folders (usually by project), so that your inbox has only those items to which you must still attend. Lastly, be sure to have an out-of-office message with an appropriate backup listed. Let those that back you up actually cover for you, and then you can file most of those messages since they have probably been taken care of, and you can hit the ground running.
"Reserve time or set up calendar reminders to go through your inbox..."
The first step is applying labels to automatically categorize the emails in folders by project, sender, or customer. Most companies set up email expiration policies, so key communication must be saved until projects are fully completed or even longer if IP is involved.
Replies to most emails can wait a few hours, so turn off all notifications (sounds, pop-ups) because they can be disruptive and diminish your productivity. Reserve time or set up calendar reminders to go through your inbox, then use an Eisenhauer matrix strategy to manage it: respond now (urgent and important emails, or replies that take a couple of minutes), delegate (forward with a brief explanation), save for later (create dedicated folders or calendar reminders to take later action), and ignore (delete spam emails, or “FYI” emails that don’t impact your work).
"The goal is to sort the notifications from the call to action..."
I admit I am not a master of my inbox, but the goal is to sort the notifications from the call to action. Then scanning those calls to action for those that align with the core deliverable of my role. While it's okay to focus on other goals and work for a bit, if you lose focus on the long-term value your role delivers, it will be hard to be successful.
"... Delete or recategorize emails that are meant to inform..."
Managing your inbox can become overwhelming, especially after some time off or even a few hours away from it! With the volume of emails received each day, it is easy to miss something that requires a response. Creating folders in your inbox can be helpful to organize messages according to the topic. If you don’t have time to respond to a message, keep it unread to review later on, and try to set aside some time each day or week to address your unread messages.
To eliminate clutter, delete or recategorize emails that are meant to inform immediately after reading them. Unsubscribe from things you don’t need and manage your preferences for things you need less frequently. Use collaborative tools, like Microsoft 365 if available at your organization, to work on files in real-time and keep multiple drafts out of your inbox. To help others prioritize, use informative titles so recipients can clearly understand the context of your message.
This article has been edited for length and clarity. The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the view of their employer or the American Chemical Society.
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