What makes email such an asset is how cheap and fast it makes sending a message, and even longer attachments. It doesn’t matter when you send the email, or where the recipient is, in relationship to you. Your message will arrive in the recipient’s inbox and they can then respond when they are available. Unfortunately, these same qualities also make email a burden on its users. Because of how easy it is to dash off a letter, people and companies send email every day that no one wants. It clogs up their inboxes, tempts them to spend money, and wastes their time. How can you take control of your inbox, minimize the negative impact of email, while taking advantage of its positive attributes? Here are some ideas:
As you begin to take control of your inbox, differentiate between people who send you emails and companies that send you advertising. People have feelings. They are waiting on a response from you. While you don’t need to (and shouldn’t) respond the second their email hits your inbox, you do owe them a read, and often a reply. These replies can usually wait, though. By waiting several hours, and even a day or two to respond, you can change people’s expectations of you.
As a society, we have become so used to an immediate response that we forget we aren’t the center of the universe. People have meetings, appointments, and even naps to take. As you take control of your inbox, you will see that an email can usually wait a while. If you let the email sit in your inbox for a day, you can also formulate a more thoughtful answer, rather than a hurried one.
Newsletters, sale notices, and reminders that your subscription is about to expire are all the same thing: advertising. You don’t owe an advertiser anything. The best way to take control of your inbox is to ask yourself if you really benefit from what they are sending (not what they are selling, but what they are sending). You may love their product. That doesn’t mean you need their sales reps clogging your inbox.
If their emails aren’t making your life better, unsubscribe. Just drop to the bottom of their email and click the hyperlinked “unsubscribe.” You can even let them know why you have chosen to do so. You don’t need to, though. It may take a few days, but you will soon be receiving less email. And don’t worry, you can always re-subscribe if you wish.
Take control of your inbox: Eliminate Spam
Another important thing to consider as you take control of your inbox is the difference between a reputable company and a spammer. A reputable company will only send you advertising if they have done business with you or you have somehow signed up for their emails.
Spammers send emails willy-nilly to everyone they can. Spammers don’t follow the rules when it comes to unsubscribing. They often take that click as an indication that you are willing to open their email, so they will persist in sending more. For these special people, don’t even bother opening the message. Just send it straight to the spam folder. As you take control of your inbox, it is advantageous to have a good spam filter that will do the job for you.
Take control of your inbox with time blocking
Block out time to reply to email twice (or 3 times) a day. Choose how much time you want to devote to email and schedule it, like any other appointment. I like the hours of noon and 9 PM. This allows me to get some writing done before getting distracted by the beck and call of email. Noon is early enough in the day that no one worries they are being ignored. Then, I can respond at 9 pm to anything that slipped through the cracks that day. If I went to bed earlier, I would move that time up, but I don’t go to bed until late.
You can use an autoresponder if you want to let people know why you are no longer instantly responding to their email. I tried this last year and found that it was more hassle than it was worth. There is nothing in my life that can’t wait a few hours.
For any email that will take less than 2 minutes to deal with, “do it or dump it.” Take control of your inbox by responding to, unsubscribing, or deleting it.
Create a folder system for important emails you need to save so that you can easily refer to them later. I facilitate a caregiver support group for Jack’s Caregiver Coalition. I save every email because often several people are cc’d and I need to refresh my memory about the conversations or email addresses. I use this folder system a lot.
Formatting your email will help you take control of your inbox
By using care when you email others, you will cut down of the amount of email you get in response, and increase the quality of what you do receive. For that reason, never send an email unless you have to. When you do, keep it short and simple. You will be able to respond much faster and the recipients will appreciate your brevity. As a bonus, when they respond, they will often follow suit and keep their emails short. It is particularity helpful if you only cover one topic per email and if you format your messages with bullet points so that nothing important gets missed.
Always take advantage of the subject line to help the recipient know what your email is about. They will be more likely to open it. If the subject changes in the back and forth of an email “conversation,” change the subject line to comply.
Go to it!
I hope these ideas will inspire you to take control of your inbox, minimize the negative impact of email, while still enjoying its positive attributes. While you’re at it, consider taking some time off from your digital life. I will be minimizing my technology use during the month of January, but if you’re still online, please leave a comment about your favorite way to control your inbox.
What Are YOUR Thoughts?
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I am an author, writer, and speaker and homeschooling mom of 3. Since doctors diagnosed my husband, Dan with stage IV lung cancer in 2012, I’ve focused my writing and speaking on helping cancer patients and their families advocate for themselves and live life to the fullest, in spite of their illness. My goal is to help people face cancer with grace. My books are available at Amazon.com:
I also blog about living with cancer at Facing Cancer with Grace.