Many of us remember the days when email was a nascent tool. Back then our in-trays were stacked with paper, and best practice was to scan the pile, get a quick feel for content, prioritize and discard. Today, our in-trays sit rather empty, but our email inboxes are bulging at the seams, and our ability to scan visually is now limited to a sender, a subject line, and a date. We are left to divine which messages are important and which are not. A recent study found that the average worker spends 3.2 hours a day reading and replying to work emails.
So how do we tame the email monster? Well, if you use Outlook, as a large part of working America does, there are some nice tools that can help you separate and prioritize incoming mail. I am referring to RULES, an oft overlooked capability of Outlook. It sits on the toolbar and looks like this:
One of the first rules you should set up is one that separates mail where your name is on the TO line vs mail where you are on the CC line. By creating a folder where all your CC mail goes, you have in essence created a pile of mail that is likely of lower priority, leaving all the email sent to you less cluttered.
The next thing I would recommend is choosing a few people in the organization whose emails are always high priority, and setting them up in the Item Alert Window. This is a pop-up screen that will come up whenever you receive an email from any of the people designated as high priority. It is always good to add your boss to this list!
Then select mail from senders in the organization that always send emails that are mainly “for information” and do not require action, and place it into another folder. At my office, I have designated emails from the cafeteria, from the fitness center, and from other senders where I know the emails require no action to go into a folder labelled “FYI only.” And of course there is the rule that designates certain types of email as “Junk,” which is liberally applied to unsolicited outside mail.
The more you play with this feature, the more comfortable you will become with creating new rules and folders that will sort your mail and allow you to prioritize where you want to spend your time. You are on your way to taming the email monster!