Monday, April 20, 2015

Managing the Inbox

As someone who can easily feel overwhelmed, I had to develop strategies for myself to effectively manage the inbox without losing my sanity. With the ease of accessibility of email, I found that I was reading emails on my phone, then again at work/home on my laptop, then again when I decided to construct a response. I started to think about all of the time I was dedicating to re-reading each email. This turned into thinning about time each day, week, years of my life on emails. When I look on someone's email or phone and see 999+ unread emails, I literally get nauseas. I understand not everyone is this easily upset by emails but in case you happen to be battling this never-ending influx of emails yourself, I thought I would share some of my tips on how I prefer to manage my inbox. 

Email folders are my life savers. For both my work and personal emails, I have folders to sort emails into. For example, in my personal inbox I have folders titled College Program, Blog, Running, Travel, Apartment, Weddings, Finances, and more. After reading an email or exchanging a thread, I sort the email into the appropriate folder. 

For example, if I sign up for a half marathon with my mom, I don't want to keep the registration email in my inbox (signaling to me "to do") for a few months so I sort it into the "Running" folder and when the race approaches, I an easily find my registration information. When I was in multiple weddings last year, I didn't want to keep the brides' emails with detailed wedding information in my inbox, so I sorted them into the "Weddings" folder. If a student or their parents sends me an email, I place it into "College Program" so I can reference it later. If I book a flight or reserve a hotel room for an upcoming trip, I place that into "Travel" so that it's not lingering in my inbox. 

I use the same process at work. Each client has their own folder which makes referencing prior emails a lot easier. After I respond (if needed), I place the email into that client folder on my inbox and it's out of sight, out of mind, which equals less anxiety for me. 

Reading When You Plan to Respond
This is a trick I have recently mastered. I found that I would sit there, read through all of my emails, then go back reread and respond, while simultaneously reading emails as they come in, only to reread and respond to those emails again later. Whew. It can be exhausting. 

After reading an article about the time it takes to redirect your focus, I started to think about how much time I was wasting by looking at emails as they came in addition to trying to complete whatever project I was currently working on. I don't remember the article specifically, but I think it mentioned something like eight minutes for your brain to redirect it's attention after it's been distracted. 

Therefore, when I read an email, if a response is necessary, I automatically respond. If I know I am not available to respond, then I won't read the email. Often times, my emails do not require lengthy, well written responses, so I feel like it's something I can manage with ease. If I am working on something where I know distraction will slow me down, I simply ignore those emails (as they come in) and check the inbox every 20- 30 minutes. In the grand scheme of life, there are few emails that will be truly detremintal if I don't read it for 20 minutes. If it is a true emergency, you will find a way to contact to me (phone being the number one suggestion.) 

I have recently been introduced to rules within an inbox. Oh my! This is a good one. At work, I receive an email every time someone applies for one of my positions on LinkedIn. This can be majorly distracting. For popular positions, I have received over 300 applications. That is 300 emails, constantly flowing in to my inbox for a position that sometimes, already has a full candidate pipeline. I  made a rule that all emails with the LinkedIn application title, are automatically redirected to their own folder. So now, I am able to look at this group of emails when I chose and not be distracted by their overflowing arrival in my inbox. (In all seriousness, it can feel like this. Just not as exciting as getting accepted to Hogwarts.)  

I aso thought I would share some of my email pet peeves. Because, I am sure you were all dying to know. 

Unnecessarily Using High Importance
As I stated previously, if something is detrimental, there are other ways to contact me. A high importance email may not be the most effective way to go and it's certainly not the appropriate unless other forms of communication have been tried. 

For example, I may use high importance when a candidate's interview location has been changed and I have already called, texted, and sent them a regular email with response. Then, I may try to use the high importance. 

Ineffective Subject Lines
A lot of times, when I start reviewing emails to respond, I will decide based on subject line and anticipated content of the email instead of time in which it was received. So people better know what to read when receiving your email, put thought into an appropriate subject line. I also find it useful to put in the subject line if an action is requested. For example, if I am trying to schedule an interview with a candidate, I will title the email "<Action Requested> ABC Interview Availability" but if we have already scheduled the interview and it's the interview confirmation, I will title the email "ABC Interview Confirmation." I find that identifying action in a title, results in a quicker response time. 

Misusage of Reply All
Back in my days of teaching, the superintendent had sent an email to all CMS employees that unintentionally still allowed the "Reply All" feature. Employees across the district spent the afternoon responding "YAY!" "Woo Hoo" and my favorite reply all "Stop replying all" followed by the even better "you are replying all when you say stop replying all" and it goes on forever. If your response is not needed by all who were included on the email, only respond to those who need it. Save everyone the inbox headache of reading your "Ok." 

With today's modern email advances, I rarely find that someone does not receive an email when I send it to them. I find the "Ok" "Got it" "Noted" etc. status update to be redundant. If I wanted a confirmation that you had read my email, I would have asked for it. 

The Nonessential Copy 
In all honesty, I don't understand the value in the "CC" or it's close relative "BCC." Let's start with the copy. If I want someone to be included on a message, I would include them in the "To" and address them in the email instead of copying them on an email between me and someone else. If the message does not require action from them or they did not ask to be included, then I don't see why they need to be included in the email at all. And why do we need to blind copy someone? I often feel like it's deceitful when you want the BCC person to know you included them on the email, but not the sender. Let's practice transparency and say hey, look who is also reading this email because we all know emails can easily be printed and shared so I don't understand the need for the lack in authenticity. I feel like it was created to be a deceitful enabler and potential problem causer. 

Wow, this post ended up being much longer than I intended. I guess I need to work on my brevity. What are your email tips? Does it annoy you as much as it does me or are you one of those carefree souls with inbox 999+ without an ounce of anxiety? 




  1. My work environment must be completely different! Mostly, because we religiously use the Reply All, CC, and BCC. BCC is always weird, but I normally do it to my boss or a coworker to let them know I took care of something that they may think about and ask me later. It saves them (and me) the time when they think of it randomly later and ask, "Oh did you ever...?"
    For CC, we have a ton of part time people who will be onsite for events and I'm the one in the office making the event arrangements. If they aren't in the office, I CC them so that they know what is going on and is prepared the day of the event.
    Reply All, I find it important to do that because my boss will send an email out to our whole department and a simple, "Got it!" shows that we read it and understand. When we don't respond, my boss feels like we aren't paying attention, and I understand that. We reply all and I think it shows that the entire team is aware of the same thing, and that if one team member is expected to reply all, then we all should do the courtesy.

    Phew! Like you said about your post, I don't know how my comment got that long! I just hope I could shed light onto some useful reasons for these things that you may not know about! xo

  2. It's great post! Thanks for sharing!