This post is part of the series on Time Management in Youth Ministry. Our overflowing email inboxes can become a real source of frustration. If you are constantly battling your email inbox but it just keeps getting bigger despite your efforts, it can frustrate you to no end. It makes you wonder how other people do it. Is it even possible to keep your inbox empty, to stay on top of your email?
My email inbox rarely exceeds 10 emails at the end of a day and I don’t spend an inordinate amount of time answering emails either. So my answer would be yes, it is possible to keep your email inbox empty and still get some ‘real work’ done. Here’s what I do to keep my inbox empty:
Make sure you get less email
In a previous post I explained how you can make sure you’re getting less email. It’s a good start when you want to empty your inbox!
Check your email once or twice a day
I know it’s hard, I know we all have this almost obsessive urge to keep checking our email during the day, but believe me: it will save you lots of time if you check your email just once or twice a day (maybe three times for your serious addicts!).
Organize your inbox
This is one thing that will save you time: organize your email inbox. Make folders for each main category of email you receive and file each email as soon as you’ve dealt with it. It will keep your inbox empty, will help you search for a specific mail more easily and it will help you keep track of what you still need to answer, making sure you don’t end up forgetting to answer certain emails. When I was working on a big project, I usually made a specific folder for it so I could easily retrieve all email conversations within the project.
Deal with email right
When you read an email, deal with it immediately in one of the following ways:
- When it takes you less than two minutes to answer an email, do it right away. It’s tempting to leave it be and think you’ll get back to it later on, but it’ll only end up costing you more time.
- When you need to do something before you can answer the email, put the action on your to do list. I simply forward an email like this into Evernote and then put it on the day I want to do this. You can then file the email in the appropriate folder, thus cleaning out your inbox. Your email inbox is not your to do list and don’t start using it as such, or you’ll end up with a complete to-do chaos and an overflowing inbox.
- When you need to wait for someone else to do something before you can reply, put a notification in your Waiting for file. You can even make a Waiting for email folder in your email inbox to save emails you’ll need to answer later on.
- Ask yourself this question: does this email need an answer? If some has sent you an email to update you or to confirm an appointment, you don’t need to answer. Replying may result in an email back, filling up your inbox again! Sometimes people email you with the intention of leaving a problem at your doorstep. They want you to take over responsibility for whatever problem they are facing. These are the types of email where you can try the don’t-answer-at-all route. More often than not, these problems will sort itself out without you getting involved!
Don’t be afraid to send short mails. As in very short mails. Sure, if it’s an email to someone you don’t know very well, it’s probably a good idea to keep it a bit formal and start with a formal intro and everything. But otherwise, feel free to skip the ‘how are you doing’ and get right to the point!
Use email filters
I’m subscribed to a number of email newsletters. While they are usually valuable (if not, I would have canceled them), they’re not something I need to see daily. So I’ve set up filters for specific newsletters so they automatically appear in a ‘newsletters file’ instead of in my inbox. Once a week I read through them all and then delete the whole bunch.
Plan ahead when going away
The toughest times inbox-wise are when you return after a vacation or time away. This can be prevented by planning ahead. You can put an ‘out of office’ notifier on your email, saying that you won’t read this email and if people want you to read it, they should send it again after you’re back (half of them will forget this or will search for someone else to answer it – problem solved). Another option (and probably a wise one even with a notifier) is to keep your calendar clear and plan to deal with your email the first or second day after you’re back.
Learn how to type
You’re thinking seriously, she’s joking, right? Nope, I’m not. One of the reasons I’m good at keeping my inbox empty is that I type really fast. If you’re a slow typer, invest in a typing course or speech-to-text software so you can dictate. Might end up saving you lots of time!
What do you do to stay on top of your email?