With over 4.6 billion email accounts circulating the web, email is the most widespread form of communication on the internet. However, modern usage of email has flooded inboxes with unnecessary clutter and workers can be an “at risk” case for the worst form of “business illness:” unproductivity. Keeping things streamlined can be an effective means of preventing that illness from affecting your business, if done the right way. Here’s what you need to know about keeping your email organization in check.
Why Your Business Needs Better Email Organization
Merlin Mann popularized an idea called “Inbox Zero” at a Google TechTalk conference in July 2007. The basics of this include systematically “processing to zero” – clarify the action each message needs, perform that action, repeat until no emails remain, then close your inbox, and get on with living. Mann was also fan of David Allen’s Getting Things Done, and created the 43Folders system. These are systems that do work for many people, but according to Oliver Burkeman’s Guardian story, Why time management is ruining our lives, the techniques designed to enhance one’s personal productivity can increase the very anxieties they were meant to reduce. The better you get at managing time, the less of it you may feel you have.
Additionally, A study by IBM Research showed people who searched their inboxes found emails slightly faster than those who had filed them into different categories by folder. Noting that email “critically affects productivity,” the researchers stated that “…despite people’s reliance on email, fundamental aspects of its usage are still poorly understood.”
Relying solely on a complex folder system with various categories can decrease productivity, but depending only on the search filter on your email software can overwhelm the average worker. Businesses must keep in mind their priorities when enforcing overarching systems to better manage their email workflows. The next sections will guide you in your path to a successful email cleanup.
How to Systematically Improve Your Email Workflow
Set Company Wide Priorities – Using the The Eisenhower Box is an effective sorting method for what is important and urgent. For email inboxes, base these priorities in terms of action and reference materials.
Audit Your Inbox – Your inbox should be categorized into two categories – action and reference. Action emails are those that are urgent and require your attention in order to effectively do work through the day or the week. Reference emails are those that are not urgent and can be managed at a later time.
Build A System Based off Priority – The following labels are the only labels you’d ever need in your filing system.
- Action Items
- To-Do’s (daily and weekly messages)
- Project Tasks
- Team Discussions (chats involving different departments)
- Reference Materials
- Email Newsletters
- Business Management Emails (memos & notices)
- Promotional Emails
Additional Tips To Better Email Management
With an ideal system in place, many businesses can simplify their filing system with the right kind of management. Here are some general tips to help keep a calm head over full inboxes.
- Have a specific time to process email – Tony Hsieh, Founder & CEO of Zappos, noted in his operations that he gets through hundreds of emails easily, by simply not answering them until a set time.
- Anytime you’re not checking email, close your email software.
- Craft email templates where you can quickly respond to repetitive requests.
- Using a simple hashtag for each of your emails can help filter your most important messages for later retrieval.
- Specific to Gmail, you can implement Gmail Labs and use the multiple inbox feature mentioned by Andreas Klinger to optimize your email workflow.
- Use tools like Sortd or Unroll to boost your email organization.
So what comes after email? With messaging apps like Slack or Whatsapp popping up in many tech spaces, workspace communication will definitely shift in a new direction. However, since email has been the mainstay tool for quite some time, don’t expect it to go away anytime soon. It’s better to manage with what you have, and get the best results for your business.