People, Culture and Inclusion

Work Hacks #2 – Managing Your Inbox.


Work Hacks #2 – Managing Your Inbox.

Letters flying out of laptop screen

We all have days where all we seem to do is try to battle the ongoing wave of emails. Maybe this is every day for you. So many emails are sent and received throughout the day, too many of them – from the ‘just an FYI’ to ‘Important/Urgent’, and you may not be just managing your own inbox, but shared ones too! It can all feel overwhelming.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. You can get back control of your inbox and still have time to work through your to-do list. I’m going to share my hacks for how I do this – hopefully some of these might also help you.

Just a quick note – I mainly use the Outlook Desktop app and not webmail, so some of these hacks might not work so well with webmail – but I’ll flag these as we go.

Protect time to check the inbox

I aim to only check my inbox 3x times a day – first thing in the morning when I log in, before I have my lunch break, and 30 minutes before the end of the day. Beyond these times I shut Outlook down so I can focus on getting my work done. Of course, there are days where my work consists of or relies on me keeping Outlook open – and that is fine for those occasions, but it is not the rule for me. The reason I do this is because, if I don’t I find I’m distracted by the next email that pings in and I can’t focus on moving forward with other things I need to be working on. Also, these times work for me – you might want to check twice a day or at different times depending on what works for you and your role. The key thing is to not have Outlook open all the time – close it down so you can focus on other work and check it at intervals.

Delay responses

I sometimes reply to emails but hold off actually hitting send. Instead, I save my replies in my drafts folder and send them out once or twice a day. (If you’re using the Outlook Desktop app and not webmail, you could even add in a delay if you want to be that fancy. I tend to do this only on occasion, but each to their own.)

I do this because I find that, as soon as I send an email, I’m going to get that email back – and then some, sometimes! So holding off hitting that send button, means I can clear through my inbox and it stands half a chance of staying clear. Also, sometimes (although I don’t like them, myself) there are email conversations that happen so I sometimes like to hold back with my reply until they’ve died down. The benefit here is that you can form and edit your reply based on all the previous email conversations on the topic – this could very well save you and others multiple email replies going back and forth.

Done and delete

Once I’ve dealt with an email I don’t leave it in my inbox – I either delete or file it. This keeps my inbox clear of stuff I’ve already actioned so I can see the wood from the trees. Most times I find myself deleting dealt-with emails – after all, if I’ve replied, a copy of the original email and my reply are stored automatically in my sent folder.

Emails with important information that I know I will need again I will file in Outlook. Also, emails with attachments will either be filed – or I’ll save the attachment outside of Outlook (on the OneDrive, for example) before I delete the email.

Get organised

I try to keep my filing structure simple – there’s nothing more frustrating than wasting precious minutes scrolling down a list of folders trying to find the one you want! I also try and avoid sub-folders if I possibly can. If I need to, Outlook has a great search function (see Desktop app or webmail help) so I keep my folders at top-level and use the search if I need to find certain emails.

I also love using the categories function (see Desktop app or webmail help) to group my emails too. This can help me chunk emails that are about the same topic/thread so I can work through them together in one go. I can and do use the categories in my Outlook Calendar – this helps me visually see the themes/topics of the meetings I am attending, which helps me focus my thinking and planning.

Rules and Quick Steps

These help me save time with repetitive tasks.

For example, I have rules (see Desktop App or webmail help) for certain mailing lists I am signed up to – these rules automatically file these emails into my ‘Mailing Lists’ folder so, on a Friday afternoon, I spend a few minutes reviewing that folder for anything that I have received during the week that might be of interest. Doing this means I’m not interrupted or bombarded by these messages – I have control over when I wish to look at them.

I’ve been using Quick Steps (not available in webmail, I’m afraid) for years and I still love them. They help me quickly create a series of actions that I can execute at a touch of a button. For example, I have a quick step which replies to an email with a standard message (useful if you find yourself replying with the same message often) then categories and files the original email for me. So I can do three actions for the price of one!

These are the hacks I use and that really help me. I hope they help you too. If you have any inbox management hacks of your own, please do share them in the comments below.

Also, don’t forget to access Outlook training if you need to – you can book a slot with one of the University’s IT Trainers via their online booking form.

Zoe Connell, Organisational and People Development

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