Do you sometimes feel as though you’re drowning in emails? Wading through a pile of spam and special offers to get to the important missives? Do you spend so long each day dealing with your inbox that it’s detracting from your business? It happens to everyone at one time or another but is usually at its worst following a holiday when all the email piles up in your absence and one glance at your inbox on your return is enough to pitch you into the post-holiday blues.
I don’t think I’d ever be brave enough to try the solution of just automatically deleting any emails that arrived while I was away, as this BBC News article talks about, although it certainly has its attractions. However, there are several steps you can take to improve the situation.
Use the unsubscribe option
Over the years your email address may have made its way onto all sorts of genuine marketing lists or you may have signed up for numerous newsletters. If you don’t read those newsletters or want any of the special offers then make sure you take two minutes out to find the unsubscribe link in the email and use it. Doing this for every single unwanted marketing email that you receive over the course of a couple of weeks will substantially reduce the number of emails coming into your inbox. Alternatively this is the sort of job you could ask a virtual assistant to do as a one-off – by giving a VA access to your mailbox s/he can compile a list of all the marketing emails you receive and once you’ve decided which you want to keep receiving, your VA can unsubscribe you from the rest.
A word of caution here, though, in that many spam emails also have an unsubscribe option but using it only has the effect of confirming that your email address is genuine and, as a result, may actually increase the amount of spam you get. Make sure you’re only unsubscribing from genuine marketing emails/newsletters.
Set aside specific times for email
Build a couple of periods into your day to deal with emails and stick to them, whatever works for you – maybe thirty minutes at the beginning or end of the day or an hour just after lunch. Use that time to check your inbox, deal with anything that comes in and delete anything you don’t need. In-between these times don’t be tempted to look at your emails as a distraction from your other work!
If you do work with a virtual assistant, you could set up a system whereby your VA goes through your mailbox first, deleting all the junk emails and dealing with any straightforward queries, leaving you just the important correspondence to look at.
Consider using spam filter software
Generally all email programmes now have a built-in spam filter although the results can be a bit mixed. If you have one of these it’s always a good idea to check your spam folder on a regular basis as genuine emails can be incorrectly identified as spam.
Alternatively there is a range of effective and relatively inexpensive spam filter solutions available to download, such as SPAMfighter Pro or MailWasher Pro, some of which have free versions available. These are particularly useful if you download emails to your PC or laptop rather than using an online mailbox, as they block malicious emails before they reach your computer. Even with these it’s worth checking those emails that have been flagged up as spam but, generally speaking, their performance is better than the built-in filters.
Set up appropriate folders within your inbox
Remember that email that came in last week regarding arrangements for a meeting? Can you find it in your inbox now? Rather than keep all your emails in your inbox, set up appropriate folders and even subfolders that make sense for you. Then either set up a mail rule that will direct emails into the right folder as they come in or move them as soon as you’ve read them. If you can automatically direct your emails to the right folder by using mail rules, it will become a lot more obvious which emails are the priority when it comes to dealing with them. Again, this is something a VA could do for you if you work with one. You wouldn’t keep all of your paperwork in one folder, so don’t do it with your emails.
Don’t be afraid to delete
Once you’ve managed to bring the number of emails being delivered down to a manageable level remember that you don’t actually need to keep them all. File the relevant ones that you’re going to need to refer back to, but once an email has served its purpose then don’t be afraid to delete it.
And as for holiday email overload? If you don’t already work with a virtual assistant, consider finding one to provide email management while you’re away. By discussing what you need before you leave you can return to an efficiently sorted inbox which is clear of spam.