Tips for managing your mailbox

Tips for managing your mailbox

From a 2017 Forbes article, we learn that office workers receive an average of about 200 messages a day, of which 144 are irrelevant. As a result, they spend two and a half hours reading and replying to these emails. This was in 2017. Meanwhile, we are in 2021 and these figures have risen even further. Fortunately, there are some clever email hacks that allow us to no longer feel overwhelmed and use our time more wisely. Discover our tips here.

How did this email overload come about?

The mass adoption of email in the 1990s truly transformed the workplace. Everyone could now reach each other at any time of the day, with just the click of a button. However, emails also brought with them a set of new obligations and expectations. Emails have to be read and likely also be answered. Employees who previously only had to worry about their work, a meeting or a phone call were now suddenly confronted with emails. The instant nature of email added an element of chaos within our working days.

Receiving emails in itself is not so taxing, but we often feel obliged to open and answer them as quickly as possible. And, every time we receive a new email, we feel a small reward in the form of a dopamine shot.

In no time at all, email traffic has exploded and we find ourselves inundated by emails on a daily basis. The pandemic has exacerbated the situation even further once many office workers started working from home. Not only are we wasting valuable time processing an endless stream of emails, but we end up being constantly distracted, which prevents us from focusing on the most important tasks.

Can we reduce emails?

Unfortunately, it is difficult to reduce the flow of incoming emails (without a strong corporate policy) but with some clever tactics we can handle emails more effectively and make them less distracting.

One of the most popular authors to have tackled this problem is probably Merlin Mann, who is known for his 43 Folders productivity blog.  The concept of his Inbox Zero became very popular in 2007, when his presentation at Google's HQ ended up on Youtube.  However, Merlin was in turn heavily inspired by David Allen's Getting Things Done methodology.

Some personal hacks

There is a classic productivity theory whereby an office worker should never touch a piece of paper more than once. You should read the paper once and then do something with it. Based on this theory, Mann devised his method for processing emails more efficiently.

You read every incoming email once. Depending on the content of the email and the expectations placed on you, you have 5 actions to choose from:

  • Delete or archive: you have read and understood the information and no further action is required
  • Delegate: you cannot (or will not) perform the action requested, so you delegate the task to someone else
  • Respond: if the reaction takes less than 2 minutes of your time, respond immediately
  • Do: if the action requested takes less than 2 minutes, perform it immediately
  • Defer: will this take more than 2 minutes to handle? Then schedule a moment in your calendar when you can perform the action or respond to the email

According to Mann, anyone who applies this strategy on a daily basis should achieve an empty inbox. He called this strategy Inbox Zero.

Be part of the solution

In order to reduce the number of emails within a corporate environment, try being part of the solution… not the problem. So, with every mail you send, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Is this actually worth sending an email?
  • Can this not be discussed more quickly face-to-face or over the phone?
  • Should I send the answer to every original recipient or just some of them?
  • Do (all) colleagues have to be in CC?

By doing so, far fewer emails will leave your mailbox and, hopefully, you will receive fewer in return.

A solution from higher up

In addition to the aforementioned tips, several productivity experts (such as Tim Ferriss) also advocate opening your mailbox only twice a day. This way, you can deal with your emails at fixed times and avoid continuous distractions. But such an approach needs to be backed up at a corporate level.

Employees are often expected to answer their emails immediately. This may be advantageous for line managers themselves, but it rarely is for the co-workers scrambling to put out yet another fire. A casual attitude to email causes too many interruptions, which ultimately prevent us from doing more in-depth work.

Email overload is therefore something that can only truly be tackled if companies establish clear email guidelines and individuals develop an effective routine for processing their inbox.

Working with ByondFiles

Would you like your employees to use their email even more efficiently? Our document management solution frees users from their inbox while making sure that relevant emails and attachments are neatly organised and readily available. Everything is stored in a central repository, accessible to yourself and colleagues (who have been granted access).

Would you like to learn more about ByondFiles? Request your demo here.

06 August 2021

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