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3 tips for managing your e-mail avalanche

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Did you know…?

  • The first e-mail was sent in 1971 – to notify the recipient of its own existence.
  • The first e-mail sent from space was from the shuttle Atlantis in 1991.
  • There are currently 3 billion e-mail accounts around the world.
  • 294 billion e-mail messages are sent each day (although 78% of these are spam).

Hang on…rewind…294 billion e-mails are sent each day?! 

Do you sometimes feel that every one of those messages is landing in your inbox? (Tweet this!)

Over the years we all tend to sign up for various newsletters and notifications.  We forget to select/deselect the box when an online retailer asks if we’d like to receive information about new products or special offers.  Important messages are now often sent by e-mail rather than post, for example, car insurance renewal quotes, notifications about school closures, invitations to events and reminders about meetings.

If you are a healthcare professional with your own private practice you have probably often wished you only had one e-mail address to check.  If you have forwarded messages from one to the other or have given everyone the same contact e-mail address for convenience, you now have personal and business messages landing in the same place.

On the one hand, this is useful.  One inbox to check – and you can use your smartphone to do this in a heartbeat.  On the flip side, you might go there to check if an expected message has arrived and get totally distracted by the lure of newsletters full of time-saving tips (spot the irony there?) or classy images of holiday destinations.

If your inbox feels like the scrolling news in Times Square and you need a virtual St Bernard dog to rescue you from the avalanche of messages, here is that help.  Listed below are three free but very effective tools for managing your e-mails so that you don’t feel overwhelmed or, worse still, miss an important message.   I have used these tools many times for my regular clients with great success.

For demonstration purposes in this post I’m going to explain three of the tools you can use if you use Gmail.

LabelsLabels

Most, if not all, e-mail providers offer the option of labelling your messages.  When your messages are labelled you can quickly narrow your search down if you are looking for something specific.  For example, labels are an ideal way to file your CPD related e-mails in one place so that you can access them quickly.

How to create labels in Gmail

1)    In your Gmail account, click on the “Manage Labels” link on the left side of your screen. (See Figure 1). If you don’t see this link in the list, click on “More ↓” to show the full list of options.

Figure 1 email labels

Figure 1: creating labels in Gmail

2)    Click “Create new label”.

3)    In the window that appears, type in what you would like the label to be called, e.g. CPD, Household bills, etc, and then click “Create”.

4)    Your new label will appear in the list on the left side of the screen.

5)    To add a label to an e-mail, just select the tick box beside that message, or open the message itself.  Then click on the labels box in the area above the messages, and select the label you would like to apply.  (See Figure 2).  Don’t forget to deselect the message after you have labelled it.

Figure 2: creating labels in Gmail

Figure 2: creating labels in Gmail

6)    Next time you want to view all e-mails regarding your household bills, you just click on the label “Household bills” from the list on the left and Gmail will show only those e-mails.  This is particularly useful when you want to delete messages in bulk, for example, at the end of the year when you know all those bills have been paid.

7)    You can also colour code your labels to make them even clearer.  When you hover over any label in the list on the left, an arrow appears beside the name.  Click this arrow and select from the range of colours that appears.

While labels are useful, try not to have too many as they can disappear at the end of the list on the left.  I find it effective to use the following four basic labels because they also act as a prompt for what action to take:

Do this. (I colour code this in red so that it stands out)

Wait for reply. (i.e. you’ve done your part.  Now you’re waiting for someone else to reply)

Delete later. (i.e. you’ve dealt with this and can delete it in a few days or weeks if nothing else arises)

Save as Reference. (use this only for important things you will need for reference in the future.  Once I’ve applied this label I usually archive the message to get it out of my inbox).

FiltersFilters

Another way to manage your e-mails is to apply a filter to all incoming messages so that, for example, all e-mails from your utility companies are automatically labelled as Household bills.  There are lots of other settings you can apply to your filters, so this is where you really can manage your e-mails rather than your inbox managing you!

How to apply filters to messages in Gmail

1)    Click on the wrench icon (see Figure 3) and then select “Settings”

Figure 3: creating filters in Gmail

Figure 3: creating filters in Gmail

2)    Click on “Filters” from the menu at the top. (See Figure 4)

Figure 4: creating filters in Gmail

Figure 4: creating filters in Gmail

3)    Click on “Create Filter” (See Figure 5)

Figure 5: creating filters in Gmail

Figure 5: creating filters in Gmail

4)    In the box that appears, enter the e-mail address that you want to filter in the “From” field.  (See Figure 6).  Enter any other details that you would like to filter in the other fields.  Click “Create Filter with this Search”.

Figure 6: creating filters in Gmail

Figure 6: creating filters in Gmail

5)    A new window appears where you have options to tell Gmail where messages from that sender should be saved, labels that should be applied, etc. When you have ticked the desired boxes, click “Create” at the bottom of the window. (See Figure 7).  Gmail will then show you a list of all the filters you have created.

Figure 7: creating filters in Gmail

Figure 7: creating filters in Gmail

 

Search Search Box

The Search box in Gmail is a really fast way to find specific e-mails, or any e-mails that mention a particular search term, or e-mails to and from one particular e-mail address.

How to use the Search Box in Gmail

Simply type your search term into the Search box and press Enter on your keyboard or click on the magnifying glass icon beside the box. (See Figure 8).  So, say you had received five e-mails about a CPD meeting that is now over, you can search for messages relating to that meeting and then delete them all at once by selecting all and clicking the delete button.

Figure 8: Using the Search box in Gmail

Figure 8: Using the Search box in Gmail

OTHER TIPS

The only way any of the above tools are going to be effective is if you take action with your search results.  Like any de-cluttering exercise, you need to focus on the task at hand and be ruthless.

  • Set aside time each day, week or month to sort out your inbox.
  • Delete old messages.
  • Take action on the important ones.
  • Archive any that you want to keep for reference at a later date.
  • Unsubscribe from newsletters that are not relevant or sent too often.
  • Empty your Trash/Bin regularly.
  • If you are aiming for a “Zero Inbox” scenario, try to delete more e-mails than you receive each day.
  • Use every opportunity to go through your inbox and deal with old e-mails, for example, via your phone while waiting in queues, on public transport or during TV advert breaks.  It will take time but you will get there in the end.
  • If you just can’t wait that long, a really fantastic tip that I picked up from PCmag.com is to create a label called “Old Inbox”, then label all your current messages with this and archive them.  Your inbox will then be clear so you can start from scratch with your new resolution to keep on top of the messages, but your old e-mails will still be accessible if you need to find one from your old, disorganised life!

E-mail should be an asset, not a nuisance or a time-thief.  Take control of your inbox, so that you can get back to your life! (Tweet this!)

A version of this post was published in Nursing in General Practice, Jan/Feb 2013

Additional Resources you may be interested in:

Escape e-mail overwhelm in 1 hour! (Online course).

About Lisa Nolan

Coach and Virtual Executive Assistant, (previously Nurse and Midwife).
This entry was posted in Healthcare Professionals and NGOs, How to and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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