Don't let inbox get out of hand

| Friday, Sept. 7, 2012, 12:01 a.m.

Despite the rise in popularity of texting and social networking, email is still the preferred way for many to communicate, especially with co-workers and business associates.

A recent study by the McKinsey Global Institute found that the average knowledge worker spends 28 percent of the work week either writing, reading or responding to email. You probably know some colleagues who spend more than half of each day dealing with the influx.

A high volume of email can make you feel overwhelmed and overloaded. And a cluttered inbox is a major productivity killer. Follow these 9 steps to tame the daily barrage.

Then, you can spend a few more hours a week not glued to a glowing screen — or perhaps glued to a glowing screen for a more entertaining reason.

• Send less email.

The more email you send, the more you'll get. Look for opportunities to use another form of communication that cuts down on the noise.

Could a quick IM chat, phone call or walk down the hall answer your question or resolve the issue? Face-to-face communication is better when you need to make a point or debate which direction to take. It's also the only choice when the subject is touchy.

• Send better email.

The first key to a better email is crafting a compelling Subject title. In the body of your message, be clear and concise. Anticipate the recipient's questions.

• Create templates to save time.

Are a lot of the messages you send to clients and colleagues similar in nature? Create templates. They'll save you loads of time over starting from scratch. Templates can be customized on the fly so they don't read like impersonal form letters. You can call up the right one with a single keystroke.

• Unsubscribe

Over the years, you've probably signed up to receive a lot of e-mail blasts from companies you don't even do business with anymore. Unsubscribe from them.

• Automate

Every major email program lets users set up filters and rules that can give incoming messages priority labels and colors, then divert them to folders other than your inbox.

For example, you can route email that contains your boss' name or the domain of an important client to a folder marked Urgent. Funnel routine messages to a Read Later folder.

• Bulk process email and take action.

Try to avoid checking messages as they come in or at times when you don't really have time to write and send a reply.

Instead, process email for 5-10 minutes each hour. Experiment and learn what's best for you. But try to cut back. If you can stand it, limit the email purge to twice a day. Then check only your newly created “urgent” folder on an hourly basis.

• Turn off your email notifications. It's more distracting than you realize and it makes everything seem much more urgent than it is.

• Stop thinking of your inbox as a storage system. It's a delivery system. Read and respond, then delete or archive.

• Divide messages from tasks.

A lot of emails are tasks in disguise. Get errands and assignments out of your inbox and onto your to-do list where they belong.

Email Kim Komando at

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