So, how do you get through all of your email on a daily basis?  Is the “email monster” getting to you?  Do you have days where you just can’t seem to get on top of it?  I know the feeling……

Despite all the current technology and software tools available, many people are falling further behind with each passing day. They just can’t seem to keep up with the avalanche of digital messages hitting their inbox.

But is it possible to get caught up on your email and stay caught up?  I’m here to tell you, yes you can! But I should warn you: there is no easy fix. Taking control of your inbox means changing your behavior. You must be willing to make the investment.

When you are not on top of your email, you feel out of control. Becoming an “email ninja” is therefore an essential survival skill. But in my opinion, making the investment is well-worth the effort and may even help build your self-confidence!

If I had to boil it all down, I would recommend these four behaviors:

1. Empty your inbox every day.

This must be your goal. You want to be able to go to sleep with every message processed. That doesn’t mean you answer every message. However, it does mean that you have processed every message. There is a difference!

2. Don’t get bogged down, keep moving.

The key is that once you start processing your inbox, you must move quickly. Read each message once and answer this question: “Is this message actionable?” In other words, “Am I being asked to do something?” If so, there are only three possible actions:

  • Do—take action on the task now. If I can do what is being requested in less than two minutes, I do it immediately. This gets stuff off your to-do list before it ever gets on it. This has the added advantage of making you look responsive.
  • Delegate—pass the task along to someone else. I’m not talking about “passing the buck.” But often someone else is better equipped to fulfill the sender’s request.
  • Defer—consciously decide you will do the task later. This only applies to “asks” you cannot complete in two minutes or less or can’t delegate to someone else. You can either add the task to your to-do list or schedule an appointment with yourself to complete it.

If the action is not actionable (i.e., the sender is not requesting you to do something), or not actionable any longer because you have taken action on it, then you have two options:

Delete—determine if you might need the information later. If not, delete it. My own assumption is that if it’s really important, someone, somewhere else in the world, has a copy of it.

File—if you think you might need the information, file it. But do not create an elaborate set of file folders. This is the single most important piece of advice I can give you. Just file everything in one folder called “Processed Mail” or use Gmail’s Archive function.

When you first begin processing email as I have described, it will feel slow and cumbersome. You will have to think about each step.

But, this won’t last long. You will eventually be able to move through these steps without consciously thinking about what you are doing.

3. Let email rules filter the low-priority stuff.

If you haven’t discovered email rules, you’re missing a great time-saver. (In Gmail, they are under the Settings menu. In Apple Mail, they are part of the Preferences panel.) They sound a little geeky, but they are not that difficult to use. Like everything, it will take a little investment, but it will save you hours of time.

4.  Don’t Give Up!

Finally, don’t give into despair. You can keep up with email. You don’t have to be a geek. But you will have to make some new commitments and learn some new behaviors.

In the end, a little extra effort will save you time and give you the satisfaction you are in control of your workflow.

If the “email monster” is getting you, call me and I can help you master the art of managing your inbox!