There was a time when I actually looked forward to receiving email. This was back when I started university and logging onto the Unix servers was pretty cool. We compulsively checked our email. Years later, I still enjoyed having a mail icon in my task bar to indicate that I had received new mail. But what if you receive way too much email? How do you deal with it effectively?
There comes a time when you no longer look forward to receiving email all that much, especially if you receive work-related emails en masse. It's good to have a work email and a home email, making sure that you don't get any work-related emails while you're at home with your family, but what if your job entails being reachable by email during off hours? This is true for freelancers, business owners, students, various professionals, and other workers.
Before we start, it's also important to clean up your incoming mail. By this, I mean that you shouldn't be receiving millions of emails from Facebook every time a Tom, Dick, and Harry makes a status update. I also rarely put my Gmail email in public forums. I have a junk Hotmail email that there just for this. You can also setup automatic filters using your mail. For example, if your email is firstname.lastname@example.org you can leave your email in public forums or comments with email@example.com. You can then filter these emails through the filter tab and check them periodically if you use the 'archive immediately' option. The '+' can be used with any other tag to classify email from the source.
1. Use Gmail As Your Main Email
Centralizing your email is the first step in taking care of business. This way, you'll be able to effectively deal with all incoming emails, no matter for what reason they've been sent. Gmail can be configured to fetch email from various different accounts. I have it set up to fetch email from 5 different accounts, including two POP3 accounts. The setup is pretty easy. You just need to open the Settings tab in Gmail and follow the prompts. I also have multiple Gmail accounts, which forward all incoming email to one main Gmail hub. Simply use the forwarding option in the Settings tab. You can also send emails with your other email addresses from one email account.
2. Gmail Labs Options
There are a bunch of options in the Gmail Labs tab in the Settings. There's the Undo Send option, which lets you undo a sent message if you emailed the wrong person. Send and Archive is the one I use the most. Once an email is sent, it's archived and disappears from your inbox.
3. Labels and Filters
It's important that almost all incoming emails are labeled, depending on priority, provenance, and other criteria. I label all incoming depending to which email it was originally sent. This lets me address different emails in different ways. It also makes it easier to search for emails. I do label emails manually, but the bulk of the labeling is done by Gmail. Some emails get tagged Personal. In order to not get lost in labels, I put a '@' in front of a major label, like 'Personal', 'Blog', 'Jobs', etc, so that the label appears first in a list of major labels. Other labels can be used like tags.
4. Check Your Email Only 3-5 Times A Day
If you receive over 10 emails a day, which is what most people receive, then it's best to not get overwhelmed and create more work for yourself. I check my email between 3 to 5 times a day. I no longer leave an open tab on my Gmail. However, when I do receive email, I address it right away. On weekends, I check my email less. At the most, it's twice a day. Sometimes I don't check it at all on Sundays. Ask yourself, do you really need to check your email and be constantly aware of your inbox?
5. Inbox Zero
Merlin Mann's Inbox Zero idea allows me to immediately address all of my incoming emails. I deal with all queries immediately, and use the Send and Archive option from Gmail to archive all my emails. I rarely delete any email at all. With over 7GB of storage with Gmail, you don't need to.
You might think that this technique wouldn't work for someone who is swamped by email, but I've been commended by quite a few people on how quick I respond to emails. This is because each time I close my inbox, it's empty. So I treat the incoming mail as a to-do list. I never let them simmer in my inbox. I get anywhere from 10 to at the most 50 emails a day and these tips have helped me deal with all of the incoming emails effectively. Stay tuned for a How to post about how you can attain Inbox Zero.