How to “deal” with the daily flood of e-mails


"376 unread emails" - The email inbox can drive you crazy

Pling! And yet another new email lands in your inbox. No matter whether you are on the phone or working on a project: You are constantly distracted by incoming emails. On average, we open our email inbox 45 times a day to deal with new emails. The correct handling of e-mails is on the one hand a question of technology, because filters and labels make it easier to file and retrieve e-mails. On the other hand, it is a question of discipline. If you manage to open your inbox only three times a day, you are well on your way.

Maybe you know these situations: You keep opening your messages because you don’t clean up your inbox and team colleagues ask you at some point what your decision is now. But in all the confusion, you overlooked this email or put it on the back burner as not so urgent. Or you can no longer find the correspondence with a customer because a colleague saved it differently than you did. Or, or…

There is another way - Keep the overview

If you follow the tips below and stick to the rules in a disciplined way, you can get a better grip on your emails and save up to 20 percent of your precious working time. If you want to minimise the time you spend processing e-mails, you should remember two guidelines in particular: only open your inbox when you have the time to process the messages. And, if possible, tick off an email after opening it for the first time. This saves you the effort of having to look into the email again at a later date. And you free yourself from the psychological burden of open but unfinished emails.

How to process e-mails efficiently

That’s easier said than done: “It’s best to deal with your emails immediately after opening them”. But what is the right approach? If you start reading the latest email from front to back, you will lose valuable time. Because you should not only read your emails, but “edit” them. This means prioritising, deleting and filing. You can generally follow the five-minute rule for processing the e-mail:

  1. Open email
  2. Decide if you can process the email within five minutes. If yes, edit and only then proceed to the next email.
  3. If it takes longer than five minutes to process, the task associated with the email needs to be transferred to your to-do list or project management tool.

Prioritise emails

If you last checked your e-mails the day before, it is usually sufficient to sort the messages by date of receipt. If you have returned from holiday, it can be helpful to sort the e-mails by recipient or subject line. It is important to note that emails from important people (e.g. customers and superiors) should be dealt with first. If the subject line contains a lot of “Re:”, indicating that a longer conversation has taken place, it makes sense to read the most recent e-mail first. Because often something has already been decided and you can tick the email off as done.

Delete e-mails

You can safely delete about 90 percent of all emails. If you are not one hundred percent sure that you will need the e-mail again, you should simply delete it. If we look at the relevance of many messages, you can already banish the email to the wastepaper basket unread after simply sifting through the subject.

So always remember: Before you start editing, first subject your emails to the subject line check and delete anything superfluous.

File emails in the right context

At the end of the day, your inbox should ideally contain no emails at all, or at most so many that you can overview them on one screen.

Why? An empty inbox can be liberating and encourage efficient work. To empty your inbox, you need to file your emails. There are different variants for this:

Classic: hierarchical folder structures

This works like the folder system on the hard disk. Under “Clients”, for example, the names of all clients are conditional. The subfolders contain all important e-mails for a specific client. The first level is best with only four or five folders, below that there can be more. Basically, you should think carefully about whether you really need a folder before you create it. To maintain clarity, you should also not stagger deeper than three levels.

Classic: hierarchical folder structures

Modern e-mail systems do not need folders. They work with an inbox, an archive for older emails and with “labels”. The biggest advantage: e-mails no longer necessarily have to be filed in appropriately assigned folders, but can be provided with labels. In this way, you can find the e-mails you are looking for much more quickly with the assigned labels than in the classic folder structures.

Classic: hierarchical folder structures

To ensure that your emails are always stored in the right business context, it is a good idea to transfer emails directly into your business applications. You can transfer your emails either via different add-ins of your individual business applications or via copy & paste. If you work with Microsoft Outlook, there is also a third way: With the Outlook add-in Mailissa, you can connect your Outlook with all your business applications and file e-mails and attachments with just a few clicks. This way you can find the information from the emails exactly where you need it. And your colleagues too.

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