5 Rules for Getting Out of Email Hell

Email is a wonderful tool. It provides small business owners and large corporations alike the ability to communicate quickly and easily, allowing for easy collaboration between teams and external contacts. We manage our day-to-day tasks as well as our marketing campaigns with this tool. Most of us wouldn’t know what to do without email! The days of picking up the phone to solicit our next sale, delegate a task to our team or ask a question are long gone. 

But...email has a lot of power over us. According to research released in 2012 by the McKinsey Global Institute, workers spend over a quarter of their day reading, answering and managing email. This survey also found that email is the second-most time-consuming activity for workers. With so much time and energy spent with your email software, I ask you: Are you the King (or Queen) of your inbox? Or is your Inbox ruling you?

For most people, email is the King! According to research done by PANDO, there's an 80 percent chance that any given inbox will be between 72 and 21,000 items…About 20 percent of users have more than 21,000 emails. (and as many as 700,000 — though that's rare. Most very large inboxes top out under 100,000 emails.)

Yikes. Do those numbers frighten you? They give me the shivers. How can we be expected to get anything done when our inboxes are so full and cluttering our minds?

What can we do to become the King of our email? Here are 5 rules to follow to get out of email hell.  

  1. Your inbox is not a storage locker

Your inbox should be used for action items only. If an email is in your inbox it is because you must do something with it. When we have hundreds or thousands of emails in our inbox, our minds get cluttered and we don’t know where to focus. We’re constantly thinking, “Do I need to reply to that email?”, “Am I waiting for a reply?”, “Do I need to do something with this email?”. This is wasted time and unnecessary confusion. Keep only action items in your inbox to reduce the confusion and clutter.

  1. Unsubscribe to non value-add emails 

We all get subscribed to what seems like 100’s of email newsletters (a lot of times unknowingly). Although it is a pain to have to manually unsubscribe to each, it is hugely valuable. As newsletters and promotional emails come in, stop and think, is this valuable to me?  If not, take the time right then and there to unsubscribe. It really only takes 5-10 seconds. If it is a valuable newsletter, utilize the rules within your email software to automatically send those emails to a specific folder. That way you can read them as you find time. 

  1. Utilize calendar reminders and tasks for follow-up

We all send out emails that require action from 3rd parties. When you send out one of those emails, if the ball is 150% in that other person’s court, delete the email. When that person responds, that email is your action item. You do not need to keep their email in your inbox as a reminder because it is 150% up to them if they take the next step. Don’t be bothered by worrying about that email. If you reply to an email and need to make sure that you get a response, keep that email in your inbox if the response is required within the next few days. If the response is not needed for a week or more, create a task or calendar reminder within your email software system and delete the email. Then you can forget about that email and task until your reminder pops up. At that time, if you haven’t received a response, you can send a follow-up message (tip – within outlook you can drag an email into your calendar and create an appointment that way. You can then delete the email from your inbox as the original message will remain intact within the calendar appointment. You can use that message to follow-up if needed. Reach out to tech support for other software systems with help identifying the best approach).

  1. Transfer important documents and information elsewhere

I fell into the trap of not doing this recently and it was a mess!  I was planning a European Trip for 35 people. Throughout the planning process I was blindly transferring all Europe Trip emails into a “Europe Trip 2016” folder. When it came to finding the invoices to pay the hotels, airline and bus companies, it was a complete mess. I had 100s of emails from each supplier and it took me hours to find the most recent invoice. I had a smack the forehead, “ah-ha” moment. “Sarah, you’re a process person -- you know better! Why are you making things so difficult for yourself!” 

From that point on, I started removing the PDFs from the emails and saving each into a Europe Trip 2016 -> Invoices folder. This small change was a life saver! From that point on I was able to go directly to the folder and pick out the specific invoice (only 7 invoices to choose from), rather than searching through 100s of emails. It was such a time saver and it greatly lowered my stress levels!

Learn from my mistake! Save your PDFs elsewhere! Also, if there is valuable information within an email, transfer that information into a different document, maybe a word document or OneNote.  If you are involved in a project, have ONE document that keeps a running list of meetings, participants and decisions made, rather than relying on an email storage system to capture that information. That one document will be much easier to find than searching through 1,000s of emails. (Right!?)

  1. Delete, Delete, Delete

There is a huge amount of fear associated with deleting emails. Many of us feel a sense of comfort in saving emails as we believe these emails have the power to provide proof that we took the right action. My challenge to you is to really consider how often you actually have to provide an email as proof. If you tracked your emails for a month or 6 months, how often did you actually have to provide email proof? Chances are that out of a 1,000 emails, you only needed 1 or 2. So is it really worth saving the other 998?  And what is the worst that can happen if you don’t have that specific email? Typically, the consequences of not having the email proof aren’t as bad as we think. So is it really worth saving 1,000s of emails and cluttering up your space?  And when you have 1,000s of emails, how easy is it to find the 1 or 2 valuable ones anyways? I’ve had “email saver” co-workers search for hours for a specific email. Is that really time well spent?  

For the sake of your sanity, I urge you to: 

Be the King (or Queen) of your email

Do not use your inbox as storage.  

Find other ways to store valuable information. 

Develop a bias to “delete first, store second.”


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