Happy Cyber Monday! How is your inbox looking this morning? Taking those days off last week sure helped.

In an effort to work smarter (not harder) in 2015, I looked at how much time I was spending on daily tasks. The most crushing report came from Outlook, where I was spending an average 11 hours each week. With these three simple tactics I was able to cut time spent in my email inbox by more than half, now averaging less than 5 hours a week on work email.

Tip no. 1 – Take your first pass to the trash

Run through your last three weeks of email and throw out all the trash. Do not pass GO. Do not collect distractions along the way. Emails more than three weeks old need special treatment. We’ll get to those later.

If you find yourself sending the same group of newsletters or webinar announcements to the trash without opening them, it’s time to unsubscribe. Don’t worry about missing content by unsubscribing. You’re not looking at it anyway. Later, if you find yourself missing the updates, you can always get yourself back on that mailing list.

Tip no. 2 – Flag and file

There are only three kinds of emails. Emails that need attention, emails that need to be filed for reference, and emails that should have never been emails in the first place. On the second pass through your email, open each item and decide whether or not it needs attention. If the item will take you less than one minute to respond to, answer the email and then decide whether or not it needs to be filed for later reference. Chances are, it doesn’t.

Emails that need attention, but will take you more than one minute to respond, should be flagged. During this exercise you will find loads of emails that don’t need to exist. These emails are in fact action items, which can live outside your email as to-dos. When possible, create to-dos in your favorite project management tool or handy notebook and get those emails out of your inbox.

Most emails don’t need to be saved, but you’ll find few that do. Things like important office memos, receipts, correspondence with colleagues or clients can be saved, but should be moved out of your inbox. Give each of these emails a home in a folder that makes sense. If it is not easy to find later, there’s no point in saving it.

Tip no. 3 – Deep clean

Now that you have the basic mechanics down, take the deep dive into the depths of your inbox. Anything older than three weeks might need some TLC. Still, make your initial pass for items that can move to the trash. Then, decide whether or not each item needs attention or needs to be filed. Create to-dos for emails that contain work items or require follow up.

After you have touched each email in your inbox once, you can get out and tackle your to-dos.


Article Author

Ashley Budd

Ashley Budd

Producer, Host of Higher Ed Special Edition
Director of Digital Marketing, Cornell University

Ashley Budd is a digital strategist and designer based in upstate New York. She specializes in bringing offline experiences online. Ashley is director of digital marketing at Cornell University serving Alumni Affairs and Development. Prior to joining the team at Cornell, Ashley spent more than five years in Enrollment Management and Career Services at Rochester Institute of Technology. Ashley speaks about college admissions, digital fundraising, communication and media technologies.