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Own your inbox. Don't let it own you.

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(This article was first published in the December 2013 issue of FACE Magazine.)

I get a lot of email. I spend much more time reading and sending emails than I do talking on the phone. Somehow, I don’t think it’s just me. With the Holidays upon us, we are all getting busier, and our email boxes have followed suit. Though the increasingly pervasive smartphone has made email more convenient, we’re now tied to it 24 hours a day. 

E-mail is a push medium. Anybody can push an email to your inbox so it’s easy to blame outside sources for your inability to keep up with the flow. Yet whether we receive 50 emails in a day or 500, most of us are overloaded. Often it’s not the volume of messages that overwhelms us but the inefficiency of how we deal with it. I’m not going to say that I’m an expert at email. But considering I receive about double the national average on any given day and it’s rare that one falls through the cracks unread, I do know a little something about it. Here are some tips and tricks I’ve learned through the years that help me stay on top of my inbox and maintain work-hour productivity.

Get to know your email client. 
Whether you use Gmail, Yahoo, Apple Mail or (like that friend I tease ruthlessly) you’re still using Hotmail, pay attention to your email inbox software. All of them have shortcuts and useful tools built in to help combat the email monster.

Just unsubscribe.
We’ve all signed up for e-mail blasts from companies we may not even do business with anymore. As a marketer, it pains me to admit that you just can’t read them all. If you aren’t that interested, take yourself off the list. There are plenty of less invasive ways to stay in touch with the brands we love (like Facebook or Instagram).

There are websites (like unroll.me) that help remove you from multiple distribution lists at once, the most foolproof trick I use is to search your email box for the word “unsubscribe.” You’ll bring up a list of all emails with the option to unsubscribe. 30 minutes spent culling subscriptions will save you many hours in the future.

Turn off notifications.
Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn are great. We love them so much we've downloaded the apps by now and access them regularly on our smartphones. By the time a friend request hits your email inbox, you’ve likely already seen it and acted on it. Since James Earl Jones doesn’t actually narrate our Facebook activity in real life, there’s really no point in reading it twice. So cut the clutter and turn email notifications off. 

Don’t post your email address on websites.
It’s an open invitation to spammers who have bots trained to search for the “@” symbol so they can harvest hundreds of email addresses at once. 

Don’t always respond right away.
Before the advent of modern communication, no one ran to their mailbox every five minutes or panicked if someone didn’t immediately receive and respond to their note. If you always respond immediately to email, you’ll condition senders to assume they can email you for urgent matters and likely increase your email load.

Send less to receive less.
My friends and clients will get a kick out of this one since many would say that I send a lot of emails. The truth about email is that it begets more email. On average, for every email you send, you’ll generate two responses. If you find yourself receiving more email than you can handle, cut back on your sending.

Write emails that don’t create more emails 
Have you ever tried to set up a meeting via email? It often takes 5 or 6 messages to settle on a time and place. Fortunately, a little bit of forethought can save a lot of back and forth. Whether you’re seeking a response, a completed task, or an informed recipient, the clearer and more direct your message, the more likely you’ll get the intended result in a timely manner.

Example: “Can we meet next week? I’m open M, W, Th between 12 and 3. What works for you? Would you rather meet at the Lab or Johnston Street Java?” They respond with the location, date and time and the thread ends with just 2 emails sent. 

Move group e-mail to collaborative workspaces
Email isn’t for collaborative work. If you find yourself going back and forth with a group, set up a meeting. If geographic limitations are holding you back, move the conversation to a platform better suited for collaboration. Personally, I like Facebook for coordinating social endeavors and I use basecamp.com for group project management.