As information sharing becomes more and more digital, email inboxes will become increasingly unwieldy if we don’t manage them well.
I'M NOT THIS IMPORTANT PEOPLE
I receive hundreds of emails each day at work/my full time job, over hundred for my business and other personal matters and numerous messages from my sons’ teachers and coaches. No matter the source of the email, most of them have one thing in common…there is a sender who is awaiting a response. There are so many days when I’m watching my alerts pop up or hear my phone dinging and I think to myself, “there is no freaking way that I’m THIS important! Like really people, I’m not”. The fact of the matter is, there are people who need things and in our fast-paced world the easiest way to get to you is through your phone or computer, which unfortunately includes email. So today, I’m going to share a few ways that I manage my email in 60 minutes.
FROM TERMINAL TO TERMINAL
Where does 60 minutes come from? Well, let me tell you! For about 6-8 months I used to travel from Houston to Dallas about twice a week. Our organization had newly expanded to multiple cities in the state of Texas, and Dallas was one of the cities that I visited the most. One of the consequences of increasing my travel was my inbox. Prior to the travel increase, I had designated times in my day for checking email. Traveling meant I now had to find time to go through airport security, find an airport restroom, take a few calls while I waited for the plane to board, forget my phone in the airport bathroom, help a lady with a small child cheer up her crying toddler and oh yeah, find something halfway healthy to eat. But wait, we were talking about email… So in between all of the new parts of my travel life, I had to check my email.
The flight from Houston to Dallas is a 60-minute flight from gate to gate. What I learned is that if I open my laptop once everyone in my row is seated, forego the interruption of the inflight drink and work until we arrive at the gate, I can get my inbox down to a very manageable number of emails.
WHY IT'S IMPORTANT TO BE AN EMAIL MASTER
Like Simon Sinek says, “leaders start with why”, so let me share a few reasons to employ the 5 steps I’m about to share.
#1 | Clearing your inbox can reduce stress and anxiety. I am absolutely one of those people that goes insane watching the number of unread messages increase in my inbox. Oh, and the red dot on my iPhone, so cheerfully displaying how many new messages, had to be turned off RIGHT AWAY!! If you are like me knowing that your to do list is growing with every message, is enough to induce a 3-drink happy hour!
#2 | Other people are waiting on you. If other people’s productivity depends on your decisions, go ahead or information, it is paramount that you check your email and get back to them. Please, please don’t let your delay in response be the bottle neck that stops a team or a person from moving forward and being their best.
#3 | You may be hindering your own productivity. Raise your hand if you’ve ever “lost” or “missed” an email in your inbox and it was critical information that you needed. My hand is SUPER high in the air. There are definitely days when I’ve allowed my inbox to overtake me and low and behold, I’ve missed key information or insight that I really needed.
FIND 60 MINUTES TODAY AND DO THIS TODAY
So, here’s how I do it. These tips are Microsoft Outlook specific, but I encourage you to read and employ the most relevant to your email provider. I should be upfront and tell you that all of these steps are going to require you to have “sorting” capability. If you don’t, I would encourage you to read this and then GO FIND A TOOL TO HELP YOURSELF!
The goal is to clear your inbox, ladies. Get your delete button warmed up! Here we go…
STEP ONE | Sort by “TYPE”. This allows you to separate email messages from calendar invites. Being able to do this means you can accept or decline invites within a matter of minutes. There is no need for back and forth communication in most cases, so you can clear invites out of your inbox pretty quickly. If you are like me, that gets rid of about 10-15% of what’s contributing to the ever-growing number of unread messages.
STEP TWO | Sort by “SENDER”. You’ll notice I’ll tell you to do this step twice, but for two different reasons. This first sort by sender is for clearing, next will be for prioritizing. Once you sort by sender this first time, now you are going to go top to bottom and DELETE! You are hitting delete (if you will never need it again) or archive (if you want to search it later but clear it now). This helps me get rid of all of the emails for lists that I need to unsubscribe from, but still haven’t and clear junk mail that somehow made it through our spam filters. I get to archive things that were from newsletters or email lists that I like to revisit, but don’t want to sit in my inbox. And don’t even get me STARTED on folders (another post later, on why folders are a waste of time!). Archiving means I can search for that sender later and all of those wise words from their daily email will be available to me.
STEP THREE | Sort by “SUBJECT”. So, here is when you have to get a little more intentional. I do this to clear, but I also want to make sure I keep the most important. Once you sort by subject, this will group all of the emails on this conversation chain, that have the same subject line. The object here is to delete older messages in a thread, leaving you with the newest one and likewise the one that has the entire conversation. You have to be intentional here because if multiple people are on the thread and you just start deleting older messages, what you may miss are folks who replied to the message, but only sent their response to you. So, for this step, I recommend you quickly scroll through each email on the thread and delete the ones that are to the same people and include the previous messages. My favorite part here is when I get to take a six-message thread down to one message. SCORE!
STEP FOUR | You’re almost there, you’ve probably cleared almost 40% of your inbox by now!! Sort by “SENDER” again. This time you are prioritizing the most important people to respond to. My priority list includes: people I directly manage and any teammates that support the team, for example the business manager and/or executive assistants (I don’t want to be a bottle neck), my boss (she likely needs information from me so that she’s not a bottle neck, she’s asking me to complete something or sharing something that will inform my work) and then people that I emailed and am awaiting a response. One note here… in my organization, we don’t heavily use the markers in Outlook that help you code a message as “important”. If we did, I would add those emails to this step.
STEP FIVE | It’s time to get it done! I sort from “OLDEST to NEWEST” messages and I respond to as many as I possibly can without having to check in with someone, do any research or take any additional steps. If you value a clear inbox like me, but want to remember you are waiting for a response, you can archive the ones that you want to keep top of mind and periodically check your archives for emails you are waiting on a follow up for.
That’s it! I have a co-worker that calls me the “Email Master” because she’s sat next to me on my Houston to Dallas flights and has watched me go. I am truly no email master, but I highly value my time. I prefer spending time talking than typing (ironic since you are reading my typing right now). Most people who work with me know me as someone who is very social, and they are RIGHT. I prefer to efficiently manage my email than to use it as my primary tool for communication, which is why I’ve kept these steps and 60 minutes a part of my consistent practice, even when I’m not traveling to Dallas. Happy email managing!
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Born and raised in Kansas City, MO (not Kansas), Tiara graduated from the University of Tulsa (B.S.) and Dallas Baptist University (M.Ed). Tiara is a career educator and leadership coach, who has a passion for abolishing injustice in education, coaching/mentoring leaders of color and empowering women to be their best.
Tiara is the founder and editor in chief of The Affinity Blog for women, mother to Ayden and Micah, wife to Austin, and lover of snickers and popcorn. Her favorite quote is from MLK, "injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere", she loves to write, talk and eat almost anything. When she retires (one of these days), Tiara plans to teach 5th graders, open a weekends only brunch restaurant, and rewatch every Marvel movie.