Filters and folders: Tips for staying on top of your inbox


The amount of emails in your inbox can quickly mount up - here's how to stay on top of them. ISTOCK
The amount of emails in your inbox can quickly mount up - here's how to stay on top of them. ISTOCK
Whether you're a job-hunter, a customer service rep or a CEO, emails can bury the best of us. So here are five tips on how to turn the tables and get on top of them.

Whether it’s the dreaded “avalanche” that greets us on a Monday morning, or the daily pile-up before you’ve even showered, the humble email can be anxiety and stress-inducing – especially when it hunts in packs.

If you find yourself staying at home with time to kill, why not give your inbox a once over?

Here are some simple, practical tips you can follow to best manage your inbox and avoid them getting out of control.

Filter out the stress

It sounds boring, but creating an efficient folder system is key staying on top of your inbox.

Gmail prefers to call them “labels” but the principle is the same – you can move emails into customised folders where your messages can be categorised based on importance, subject, who they’re from, and their urgency.

If you want to get really fancy you can also apply filters to your incoming emails.

Depending on your email provider you can tell your inbox to filter certain emails based on several parameters, including what words and phrases they do or don’t include.

It might seem a be a bit technical and overwhelming at first, but devising and maintaining an efficient folder and filter system is definitely worth it in the long run.

You’ll soon see the that daunting “total unread” tally decrease dramatically as each message is distilled into the categories that you can manage one at a time.

Try it out, experiment, and see what works.

It’ll bring huge benefits to your working day and boost your overall efficiency – not to mention improving your stress levels.

Don’t check your emails constantly

Some people prefer to answer emails as and when they land – and, of course, certain jobs will demand that.

However, if you can set aside portions of time over the course of the day to tend to your unread messages and nothing else, that will allow you to concentrate far better on what’s at hand and tend to the subject matter or conversation more efficiently.

This could be an hour in the morning, followed by a hour in the afternoon. Or shorter, more regular intervals over the course of the day.

Either way, set yourself a reminder on your phone or your calendar for when it’s “one-on-one time” with your inbox.

Create templates

If you sometimes find yourself writing the same email over and over again, you can save yourself a huge amount of time and energy by creating a stack of template responses, also known as “canned responses”.

Most email providers will have this option fairly visible within your inbox settings.

They’re great for quick-fire messages or responses that you send on a regular basis and would normally find yourself writing from scratch each time. This erases that task.

Of course, templated messages have the danger of being stale or lacking in style or tone, so ensure you still add that personal touch before you hit send.

Conduct a ruthless purge

Whether it’s your work or your personal account, everyone has a dozen or so emails that pile up every morning that never get opened.

Perhaps it was the pizza you had delivered where you forgot to uncheck the dreaded box, or it could be a coupon website that keeps literally spamming you with its deals of the day.

We all roll our eyes when we see them pop up but never get around to unsubscribing from them.

So it’s as simple as taking the time to do so – and being ruthless about it.

Keep your subject lines clear

The search function in your inbox is great for extracting information from emails gone by.

However, an unclear or generic subject line can make that tool redundant and you can find yourself trawling through pages and pages of previous emails just to find the one you want.

Going forward, ensure your subject lines are clear, precise and focused – and make sure they include the key buzzwords that your ongoing email conversation is likely to relate to.

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