You’ve been through this: you’ve been catching up with a friend when suddenly, something else requires your attention. You leave their latest message unread so that you can easily find it later. However, you end up going from one activity to another as your inbox starts filling up with conversations from other people and groups. You only realize later on, maybe hours or days later, that you left a conversation going. You then ask yourself if your delayed reply would still be relevant for the other person at this time.
The same may happen to your work email. Hundreds of them may come in every day from superiors, colleagues, clients, newsletters, subscriptions, and more. How do you sort out your pile and prioritize which ones need to be replied to the soonest? Here are some hacks to help you declutter your work inbox.
1. Categorize, Archive, or Delete: Make Decluttering a Routine.
The first step to keeping your inbox neat is to get rid of what you don’t need. Don’t wait for your inbox to notify you that you’re out of space.1
If you’re one of the people who was unlucky enough to have their inbox count at a thousand, you may want to make time for this. The perfect time is when you’re done with your tasks for the day and have a lot of time left before your shift ends. Make decluttering a routine you can do weekly or monthly. The more frequently you do it, the less hassle for you.
A. Categorize and personalize your inbox. Create folders and labels by sender type or by group. Have three folders you consider very important. These should be at the top of your inbox, so you can easily be reminded to check them. An example is to have one folder for potential candidates, one for clients, and one for colleagues.
B. Archive what you think you’ll need in the future but not now. These are the things you think are relevant to your business, but not considered crucial for your current situation. For example, a past invitation to a job fair that occurs yearly but has been put on hold over the pandemic.
C. Delete what you won’t need ever again. To start off, check which of your emails have no attachments. Identify if these have been replied to. Analyze the information contained in them and ask yourself if they’re still needed. Get rid of everything in your spam folder and don’t forget to empty your trash bin as well.
2. Store Somewhere Else What Doesn’t Need to Be in Your Inbox
The only time you can delete important emails is when you can organize them all in a file or folder. An example is applicant contact details and their CVs (Curriculum Vitae). You may want to put them all in a spreadsheet. Input all their details there and upload all CVs to a cloud folder. Add each uploaded CV’s link to the spreadsheet for easy navigation.
You can also simply direct these senders to tools like Google Forms and other data-gathering tools, to help you receive their information neatly on your end and create your go-to database. Everything goes straight to one file without getting your email overflowing.
3. Show that You Care: Schedule a Time for Replying to Emails
Just as you need to allot an hour or two for deleting your old emails, do the same for replying. Answering them as soon as you can gives each email less time to occupy your inbox. It will also save you so much time scrolling through your screen just to find the email you didn’t read three days ago.
If you can’t decide on your answer within the day, ask yourself if you can at least give the sender a response about what you’ll do for them and then update them in a few days’ time. Set notifications or Nudges to help remind you of senders that you haven’t replied to yet. Responding immediately tells the person that you respect their time and are eager to correspond with them.
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4. Write Emails with Ease: Use Predictive Texts and Templates
Writing emails can be repetitive, but it doesn’t have to be exhausting for you. Use the predictive texts displayed by your email provider when you’re uncertain of what to type. Another thing you can do is to create your own email templates.2
Create email templates when you notice that you keep using the same structure of reply for a certain group of people or for a specific inquiry. Some work services like Microsoft allow you to create them, to reuse whenever you need to.
Do keep in mind to still personalize these emails. Templates aren’t a reason to write lazily but a tool for you to write faster and more strategically. If you’re writing to a potential applicant for the first time, still be personal and mention what you know about their experience. Acknowledge their strengths or what you think they do best. These details will help them know that you care about their hard work.
Make sure that you write completely by including all the information they may be asking for. Yes, you want them to respond to you, but remember that your email isn’t necessarily a chat box. Include the most important details such as what skills you’re looking for, the years of experience they have to have, and your company’s work setup.
5. Manage Your Notifications, Manage Your Stress
One big cause of stress can be your notifications. They don’t always have to be popping up on your screen, especially when you’re at your most busy and your inbox is at its fullest. Here are some adjustments you may want to consider.
A. Use apps for notification management. Manage your tasks—like emails you’re already in the middle of replying to—by using apps that help schedule your notifications for you. Some of the apps you can try are Daywise, Pusher, or Hooks for iOS. Use these to create specific schedules for when your notifications should come in within the day.
B. Mute possible distractions. You can also mute email threads that don’t concern you at the moment. These include notifications for the most casual group chat at your workplace that perhaps alerts you every few minutes about who said what. You may also turn these off to stop the emails from gathering in your inbox, if they aren’t mandatory groups at all.3
C. Manage your newsletters and email subscriptions. There may be some instances where you have signed up on a website you can use for work but forgot to untick the little subscription checkbox at the bottom. It might have taken you a while to notice that there’s already a number of them being sent to you. See if there are ones you would need for work. For these, you may want to customize how frequently you should receive them.
Organizing Your Emails Makes You More Productive!
Take care of your inbox to keep it easy to look at and go through. The people you converse with will surely thank you for your speed in replying with care.
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1 “Email organization best practices”. https://join.com/recruitment-hr-blog/email-organization . Published last March 1, 2022. Accessed last March 13, 2023.
2 David Campbell. “Recruiters Can Now Improve Their Email Productivity & Management with These Simple Tricks & Tools”. https://recruitcrm.io/blogs/how-recruiters-can-improve-email-productivity/ . Accessed last March 13, 2023.
3 “10 email hacks to increase productivity and efficiency at work”. https://join.com/recruitment-hr-blog/email-productivity-hacks . Published last March 1, 2022. Accessed last March 13, 2023.