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Time management

How do you manage multiple email addresses, each with an overflowing inbox? If you open your inbox and scan for important emails, never deleting or opening others, you could easily become overwhelmed. You may think about abandoning your email address and just starting over, but that comes with more headaches.

Let’s address the unread mail issue first. You created an email account and you’ve used it for everything from family news to newsletter subscriptions. The easiest way I’ve found to get control of this issue it to sort your email by sender. Once you see who’s sending you email, you can cut down on anything unwanted. Sort your inbox and find the sender with the most unread emails. Let’s tackle them first.

If you have a large number of unread emails from a newsletter you subscribed to, there’s a good chance you don’t need the subscription.  Just open one email, scroll to the bottom, find the unsubscribe link and use it. You can go back to your inbox and delete the old, unread newsletters.  If you do this just five minutes each day, you’ll have a clean inbox in no time.

Next, let’s set up some rules for incoming mail.  Depending on your email provider, you’ll have rules or filters.  The screen shots below are from Yahoo! and Gmail, because that’s what I use.  Most providers are similar but you can always search using the following keywords: filters, email, your provider.

Yahoo Mail

The settings wheel in the right corner is where you can find email options.

Gmail

I created a folders for family, friends, work, subscriptions, and home.  I have sub-folders that filter even more.  I like the way Gmail lets you set up filters.  I have rules that mark messages as read before they get sorted.  One of my filters marks emails with certain subjects as important.  You can even set up rules that send you text messages when you receive certain emails if you have the paid version of Yahoo! mail.

Filters are like administrative assistants that do all your filing.  I use Gmail for most everything I do professionally, so just about every email is filtered,  color-coded and prioritized.  One quick scan of my email dashboard, and I know what to open and what to delete immediately.

How many times have you dropped the ball on something because you forgot to go back and respond to an email?  We all have good intentions but sometimes we get distracted.  This is one reason you need to schedule your email time.

Set aside thirty minutes at the beginning of your day to look at your email.  Go ahead and respond to each message that requires two minutes or less to clear up.  One example would be responding to meeting requests or sending an attachment or acknowledgment to someone.  When you remove these emails from your to-do list, you’ll see progress.  Any email that requires more than a couple of minutes will need to be prioritized according to the task.  Mark or flag these emails so you know to revisit them.  Make it a best practice to respond to each email and voice mail by the end of the business day.  Emails that have deadlines need to be placed on your calendar with reminders set a day or two before the deadline.

More and more business is being done through email these days.  Scheduling email time each day lets you control your inbox instead of your inbox controlling you.  It needs to be part of your daily routine.  Check your inbox again around midday to make sure nothing urgent has come in.  At the end of your day, go back and checked for flagged messages you can respond to.

There’s one more thing I do to organize and manage my email.  I have an email set aside just for couponing.  This is the email I give for any kind of free sample, offer, survey or signup.  I still check this email every day, just in case there’s a special coupon or offer.  I also have an email set aside for this blog and one set up for the freelance work I do.  It sounds like too much to handle but it helps me separate my tasks and keep track of my time for billing purposes.

It sounds too easy doesn’t it?  Just 4 easy tips can help you organize and manage your email.

  1. Sort and unsubscribe  - set a goal for either five minutes a day or 200 emails
  2. Use rules and filters to file and sort your email
  3. Schedule email time daily and use your calendar – just like you would a meeting or appointment
  4. Have special email addresses for different hobbies or tasks – keep couponing separate but don’t forget to check it

There are apps out there to help you tackle the email monster in case the 4 tips don’t work for you.  I’m testing an app in Yahoo! mail called Organizer! from Other inbox.  I have a Yahoo! email address that I created when I was in college that I’m testing it with.  I’ll let you know if I like it.

Do you have a tip to help manage email?  Let me know in the comments and I’ll feature it in a future post.