4 Simple (but Brilliant) Tricks for Managing a Messy Email Inbox
If you’re constantly overwhelmed or sidetracked by emails, you may not be handling them the right way.
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Many of us aspire to reach "inbox zero."
As the founder and CEO of, an email marketing company, I know that it's no easy task to tame an onslaught of emails from both personal and professional sources. For many of us?--?from admins to executives?--?this accounts for a considerable chunk of our daily work.
So it's incredibly important that we're efficient about it.
If you're constantly overwhelmed or sidetracked by emails, you may not be handling them the right way. But with a few tweaks to your approach, you can attain a healthy relationship with your inbox.
Here are a few things to consider when looking to improve your email efficiency:
Email is a critical type of workplace communication.
Too often, people consider email to be an inconsequential or informal way of communicating.
Perhaps people worry less when hitting "send" because they don't see the reactive facial expressions or hear the vocal inflections they do when communicating via phone call, on a video meeting, or in person. But email is as important as any other form of communication, whether it be chatting on the phone with a client or presenting to a boss.
So when sending an email, consider not only how you feel about it, but how the receiving party will react to it.
A big part of that is taking a moment to read your emails again before sending to examine tone and accuracy. The way you email is a direct reflection of you.
I have four separate email accounts. Here's how I manage them.
I practically live in my primary business email during the day, so I try to use it only for internal operations. My secondary business email, which receives hundreds of emails each day, serves as a catch-all for other business items, such as client emails, promotional emails, and the email lists of client competitors, which I monitor. If I manage to catch a breath, I'll check my personal and charity email accounts.
With that laid out, I also go through each inbox in phases. In phase one, I sift out unnecessary emails quickly. For example, I read and delete emails I was CC'd on and delete any emails about issues I know have been resolved, sometimes without even reading them.
Phase two involves reading and responding to emails that I can answer quickly and easily.
Finally, phase three requires replying to the emails that will require a bit of time to handle appropriately. This phase includes anything that will require a bit of research, a meeting, a conversation, a thoughtful response, or any other considerable effort.
This three-phase system helps me to get everything else out of the way before committing to more time-consuming emails.
But that doesn't mean I ignore important emails, leaving them for later.
In fact, I try to reply to every email that requires a response very quickly. When I can't immediately offer a full response to an important email, I let the sender know I've received it and give them a timeline for when I will get back to them, whether it be in two hours or two days. I believe strongly in over-communicating, both as a rule for emailing and business communication in general.
I tell my employees all the time: "It's OK not to have the answer immediately. But it's not OK not to let somebody know you don't have the answer immediately."
This approach helps relieve much of the stress involved with handling a high volume of emails. Personally, I strive for "inbox 10," because inbox zero simply isn't realistic most of the time. If I have 10 emails in my inbox at the end of the day, I consider that a success.
Regardless of what inbox number or order or outcome helps you feel in control of your email inbox(es), taking this type of structured approach could prove transformative.
Here are a few other tips for email management.
1. Change the subject line when the subject changes
We often end up using a single email thread to cover several different topics. For example, an email with the subject line "Tuesday Meeting" might evolve into an email thread about Tuesday's meeting, yesterday's business report, and Wednesday's company holiday. In order to be able to locate and file emails effectively, always change the subject line when the subject changes.
2. Take the extra few seconds to re-read your email and make sure it's clear
Having to follow up just to clarify what the original email is asking for is a major time suck. Always take the extra minute to re-read your email. Be certain you're incredibly clear and concise about what you need.
3. If you're on a long email chain, delete irrelevant earlier information before replying
Otherwise, the recipient will have to scroll through a mess of previous communications to find the important info. This is especially problematic on mobile. Deleting previous communications keeps the thread clean and orderly.
4. Blind copy yourself on important outgoing emails, so you can file them easily from your own inbox
Too often, people only file received emails, but it makes sense to file the emails you send, too?--?especially if they're FYI messages that don't invite responses. It's much easier to file away and locate your sent emails if they exist somewhere other than in the all-inclusive "sent" folder.
As a result of this system, when I'm out to dinner with my wife and friends, I typically pick up my phone to check work emails the least of anyone. And when I realized that, I also realized how important and impactful it is?--?both inside and outside of work?--?to have an effective strategy in place for managing emails.
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