While working remotely, employees are receiving more email than ever. If you work remotely and feel like you can’t stay on top of your inbox, you’re not alone. According to research published by Statista in 2020, approximately 306.5 billion emails were sent and received each day. And according to PoiteMail Benchmark data for 2020, internal corporate email volume is up 72% year over year.
Due to the volume of email that you likely send and receive, it’s no surprise if you experience communication overload that causes you to miss or forget important emails. How can you better manage your inbox as a remote employee? Here are five email management strategies to experiment with.
- Create a system that works for you. When it comes to email, people tend to just plow through it and rarely step back to analyze what is and isn’t working. Why not set aside some time to implement a few simple changes to make your inbox less overwhelming? While there are a lot of organizational features in every email program–folders, sorting rules, and flags–it’s still your responsibility to figure out a management system that works best for you.
If you want to experiment with a popular system, try FAST, an acronym that stands for file, assign, store, and trash. The key to this system is opening an email and promptly deciding what to do with it. If you don’t read or address the message immediately, you may choose to file it into a folder, assign it to someone else, store it for reference, or trash it.
- Time block your email processing. Not everyone works in their inbox all the time. Depending on your industry and role, your ability to time block your email processing will vary. Some people can check email first thing in the morning, at lunch, and then again at the end of day; others may need to check their inbox hourly and respond promptly; and a third group may be fine checking their email once per day. Determine what’s realistic in your role and experiment with time blocking (i.e. schedule dedicated time to process your inbox). You could try scheduling an hour in the morning, thirty minutes in the afternoon, and thirty minutes at the end of the day. Or, try ten minutes at the top of each hour.
- Establish a two-minute rule and routine. If you receive a lot of tasks and requests by email, or tend to procrastinate small tasks, consider adding a two-minute rule to your email routine. If you receive an email with a task or inquiry you can realistically check off your list in about two minutes, do it immediately (or within your dedicated time block). These quick response times will keep your colleagues pleased and your inbox at a reasonable level.
If the task will take you more than two minutes to complete, or will require some research, it’s polite and helpful to set an expectation for the sender. Reply to their email with something like, “Got it! Will get back to you by end-of-day (end-of-week, tomorrow etc.). Then don’t forget to schedule a reminder for yourself.
- Use out-of-office responses while in the office. Sure, you turn on your out-of-office response when you’re literally out-of-office on vacation; have you tried using an autoresponder when you’re technically in the office working but want to protect your time? Let’s say you want to have an uninterrupted workday on Thursday. Consider setting an autoresponder that tells senders you’ll get back to their messages on Friday morning. This takes the pressure off you to respond, lets senders know not to expect an immediate response, and is also a good way to hold yourself accountable!
- Create template email responses. Do you frequently send similar email messages? Or consistently reply to the same questions? You can speed up your response time by creating and saving email responses as templates.
If you want to better manage your email, experiment with a few of these strategies to discover what works best for you: develop a file system, create time blocks, add a two-minute rule, schedule reminders, and create template email messages. Suddenly, your inbox will feel a lot more manageable!