May 07, 2012, 12:31 PM — One of the simplest ways to be more productive during working hours is to reduce the time you spend on maintenance tasks like checking your e-mail. These tasks break your concentration on more important work, and a recent study from UC Irvine suggests that checking your e-mail less often can help reduce stress and raise your level of concentration at work.
Yet whenever anyone suggests we check our inboxes less often, our first response is often "Oh I'd be fired if I ever tried that." For most of us, e-mail is the primary form of communication in our personal and professional lives. Ignoring it for most of the day seems like a recipe for disaster, and of course if you simple delete everything and close your e-mail account entirely it probably will be.
Still, by approaching e-mail management strategically and learning a few tips and tricks most people can get away with checking e-mail just once or twice a day without missing any important information. Sound impossible? Here are the steps you can take to master your inbox and keep e-mail from taking over your life.
Clean Out Your Inbox
The first step to taking control of your e-mail life is to clear out your backlog. It's bad enough when you're constantly checking for new e-mail, but many of us also obsessively look back through our inbox to make sure we didn't miss an important task buried somewhere in 100+ unread messages.
You need to go through your unread e-mail and take some action on each and every message, even if that's just declaring it no longer relevant and deleting it. This can be a lot of work, but it will save you time in the long run as those e-mails will finally be off of your mind. Sorting out all your e-mails should also give you a better sense of your personal e-mail management patterns: after looking through your e-mail history you'll know who's expecting a response, when you ought to get back to them and what's probably going to arrive in your inbox soon.
In extreme cases you might want to consider just declaring e-mail amnesty and marking all unread messages as dealt with. If you decide to go this route, send a mass e-mail out to coworkers letting them know so they can send you a polite reminder about projects they're waiting to hear back from you on.
Thankfully, most people won't need to take such extreme measures and should be able to tackle their inbox in a few hours. For further guidelines on strategies for saving time while cleaning out your old e-mail,s check out our guide to helping you Get Your Inbox Back to Zero.
Organize and Automate Your E-Mail