I have recently been running workshops and giving presentations about time management. The question I often get asked is ‘how can I better manage my emails?’. Unfortunately, there is no magic answer to this question. Emails are generated by others and you will never be able to stop them from emailing you. However, there are some things you can do to take back a little bit of control.
As email clients have been developed, more and more tools have been added to try to make your life easier. However, as with everything in life, what works for one person may not work for another. One tool that some people struggle with is the conversation function. This is when your emails are usefully grouped in to topics so they are all in one place. I don’t like this function at all as it pulls in sent emails and sometimes even shows deleted emails. I lose and miss emails and find it difficult to track where I still have live actions. If you struggle with this, then you can turn the conversation option off. Not sure how to do this, look at my previous blog which covers how to turn off email conversations in the popular email clients.
It can take you up to 25 minutes to regain your focus after a distraction – that’s quite a long time if you think about how many times you are distracted in your working day. Distractions are not only colleagues and phone calls, but email notifications. I know I do it, as soon as I see that notification I’m thinking about what I need to do with that email rather than focussing on what I am working on. So, I turn them off! Most email clients will have an option in the general settings to stop notifications – whether that be sound or pop-up notifications of one form or another. For emails on your phones, not only can you turn your notifications off, you can set your email so it is only ‘fetched’ when you manually open the mail app. Not only does this remove distractions, it also saves battery life!
Folders, Categories and Flags
If, like me, you use your inbox as your to do list, folders, categories and flags are a great way to manage outstanding actions. I move emails to folders once an action is complete, in some of my inboxes (yes, I have more than one!), I have an ‘awaits reply folder’ for actions which are sitting with someone else. You can set category names and colours to suit the way you work. Flags are great if you want to move something to a folder, but need a reminder to follow up something at a later date – you can set alerts for a more convenient time.
Close your Emails
If you are working on something which requires focus, close down your emails and turn your phone off or turn it to ‘do not disturb’. There is nothing like the temptation of a quick check to break your focus, so take that temptation away.
These are just a few ways you can take back control of your emails. Do you use any of them or do you have other tips you can share?