Are you one of those people who have hundreds or thousands of unread emails lying in their inbox, so much so that you’re no longer able to distinguish the important ones from spam? Or are you among those who respond to an email the instant you get an alert and always have a clean inbox without any unread messages? The answer may reveal a lot about who you are.
Our personalities and ways of communication can influence our email habits and how we manage our inboxes. Take for instance people who respond to every email with lightning speed and don’t leave any unread messages. Such individuals are likely to always be on top of their game at work. They try to strike off every item on their to-do list and not leave anyone hanging for their response. They may find it relieving to have no pending emails waiting for them. However, it is also possible that such individuals may be avoiding more in-depth work. While responding to all emails could give them a sense of being productive, in reality, it is their way of avoiding more demanding tasks.
There is a second category of people who only respond to emails depending on the urgency, as well as the time required for any research or thoughtful responses. At the same time, they also experience a sense of pressure and guilt that there are always more emails waiting for their response.
Finally, some people may find it overwhelming to respond to incoming emails or just hard to prioritise them in terms of importance. They often ignore emails, leaving numerous people waiting for a response. They could be experiencing what is known as email anxiety, which can manifest itself as procrastination or feeling overwhelmed and stressed about how to reply to an email.
This could be due to a genuine difficulty with feeling stuck and unsure about how to respond to emails or trouble with prioritising. This can cause some people to judge themselves as inefficient or incapable of managing their to-do’s and being organised. It can also result in a lot of stress and give rise to difficult feelings like guilt and shame. Yet it is important to remember that having a cluttered inbox does not deserve any moral judgements.
6 tips to manage your email inbox more efficiently
Emails form the core of workplace communication today and having an organised inbox can help you perform day-to-day tasks better. There are some good email habits we can all follow to declutter our inboxes without procrastinating and feeling pressured by the number of unread emails.
The best way to prevent yourself from getting overwhelmed by constant emails is to prioritise them in order of importance as soon as possible. Take immediate action around which emails you want to delete, which ones you want to respond to, what you would like to archive and what needs to be added to your action items. Once the emails have been prioritised, you can always return to your inbox later and focus on other tasks at hand without feeling the pressure to respond or using avoidance tactics.
If you need more help in getting organised on the professional front, you can try online mental health resources such as the Wysa app, which has a self-care tool pack for improving your productivity. It includes guided exercises on sharpening your focus, boosting motivation and energy, tackling procrastination and finding work-life balance.
2. Schedule time for email
Leaving your email inbox open the entire day can make you restless. Fix certain times during your day to read through emails and clear your inbox. Set your own limits around how many emails you can allow to pile up. You would have already sorted and prioritised your inbox as a first step, so you can utilise your fixed time slot for managing your inbox to respond to emails and delete unwanted ones.
3. Create boundaries
We are constantly bombarded by emails so sometimes it can be useful to draw some boundaries between our personal and professional lives. For instance, it can help to have separate emails for work and personal communication. You can also avoid checking your work email during weekends or after work hours. Make it clear when you’re unavailable by setting automatic out-of-office messages for weekends and vacations.
4. Get organised
Use your inbox features to help you manage your email exchanges more efficiently. For instance, create sub-folders to segregate emails into different labels to find things more easily. Additionally, you can create filters to avoid mixing up external emails with internal emails. You can pin the most important tasks to the top or use the star button to highlight any messages you want to mark as high priority and respond to urgently.
5. Set the right expectations
Getting instant email alerts on our smartphones can make us feel pressurised to reply instantly as well. However, it is important to remember that you can take your time to respond to important messages. If you’ve found yourself feeling anxious about how to respond to an email, it can help to send a quick note acknowledging the receipt of the email and suggesting that you will be responding to them in greater detail soon.
You can prevent clutter in your inbox by unsubscribing to unwanted newsletters, promotional messages and emails from unknown recipients or marking them as spam.
Photo by Karolina Grabowska
Photo by Torsten Dettlaff