Imagine if hundreds of people were talking to
you simultaneously about dozens of different topics and each was
expecting an immediate response. You'd go crazy, or at least turn up the volume on your iPod.
that's what it can feel like when you look at your email inbox: a
surfeit of questions, comments and come-ons that invite a speedy reply.
know that it's polite to respond quickly -- it's an etiquette instinct
we've evolved ever since stone age man procrastinated with the
cave-to-cave salesmen hawking iron.
And it's increasingly a reason why we're checking our BlackBerrys so often.
quick-fire responses are frequently impractical, especially if you work
for one of those companies that expects you to do actual work. So here
are some strategies for dealing with an overflowing inbox without
losing your cool.
Become a filter ninja
Outlook and other email software lets you set up filters that show you only the messages that meet your selected criteria.
have one filter called "Top Contacts" that shows me only messages from
my boss, my direct reports and other email addresses that I've told
Outlook to look out for. These usually warrant the quickest response.
called "Only to Me" shows me emails where my address is the only one on
the "to" line. These emails are likely to deserve a faster reply too,
if only because nobody else is going to answer them for me.
can likewise set up filters for criteria such as "Family," "Bank,"
"People who are suing me" or whatever else helps you find the messages
that matter most.
Reduce your carbon copy footprint
of us use the cc line too liberally, copying everyone in our
organization who has recently expressed an opinion on the subject we're
While there are
legitimate reasons for using the cc line to keep people in the loop,
abuse of the electronic "carbon copy" is a big factor behind inbox
You can dissuade persistent
offenders by politely explaining to them what you need to know
("Looking forward to hearing more about the new line of iron-based
tools, John. In the meantime, I'm sure Paul can keep me in the loop
about any minor changes to our decision to phase out stone"). But good
etiquette is always best taught through example. Cut down on the cc'ing
and trust that others will follow your lead.
Grab a technical assist
are okay, but my email software really ought to be able to do the hard
work for me. After all, it has all the information it needs to figure
out who are my most important contacts based on the frequency with
which we exchange email.
the theory behind Gmail Priority Inbox, a feature Google introduced on
August 30. This optional way of organizing your Gmail puts your
important messages at the top of your inbox.
requires a bit of training to help it understand what you consider
important, but early reviews are largely favorable. I'm not aware of
any equivalent tools for Outlook, though Xobni told me that they're
working on ways to help people prioritize their inbox.