It's hard to imagine doing business without email. With this handy form of electronic communication, you can exchange correspondence, market products and services, and connect with customers in an instant. Unfortunately, too much of a good thing can be a bad thing. An email inbox stuffed full of unread messages can make any user — personal or professional — feel overwhelmed. When you're bombarded by emails, take advantage of these seven important strategies for managing your inbox.

Schedule Time for Email

The first step to managing your inbox is setting aside the time to do it. Schedule a few periods throughout the day to scan through emails and craft necessary responses.

If you are truly underwater and know you can only respond to email during certain windows of the day, keep clients or customers happy by taking a tip from Tim Ferriss, author of "The 4-Hour Work Week," and create an auto-responder along these lines:

"Thank you for your message. I check email at 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. daily. I try to respond in a timely manner, but if you need immediate attention, please feel free to give me a call. Thanks again, and have a great day."

Prevent Spam

One of the best ways to cut back on unwanted emails is to prevent them from arriving in the first place. Stop the delivery of unsolicited newsletters and promotions by typing the word "unsubscribe" into your email search box. From the list that pops up, determine which messages you can live without and click on the "unsubscribe" icon located at the bottom of the email. For an even quicker method, try Unroll.me, a free app that allows you to unsubscribe from undesired newsletters en masse.

Close-up of the delete key on a laptop sitting on top of a wooden desk.
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Delete, Delete, Delete

Managing an email inbox sometimes requires a disciplined use of the trash bin. When perusing your email, delete spam and promotional messages first. For emails that don't require a response, consider whether you will act on them in the future. If the answer is probably not, then delete. Once you've followed these steps, you should have an easier time sifting through your remaining messages.

Mark as Unread

If you're like most people, there are always a few emails you hope to return to when you have more time. By marking these emails "unread," you create a handy to-do list for later. If you don't get to these messages by the end of the day, then file them according to the system below.

Man sitting with legs crossed, reading emails on a tablet.
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Get Organized with Folders

Just like a filing cabinet keeps your office neat and organized, a virtual filing system helps de-clutter your inbox. Use five simple folders to save your sanity.

Inbox

After going through your inbox, the only messages that should remain are those that you plan to attend to today. Otherwise, delete messages or file them into folders.

Action Folder

Emails that demand some type of immediate response or action belong in this folder. Ideally, the action folder should be empty at the end of the week.

Waiting Folder

This folder contains emails that demand longer-term action from you or those that require action from other people like clients, customers, or coworkers. For optimal organization, review this file every few days.

A-to-Z Folder

Important messages that you need for reference belong in this folder. Keeping it alphabetized ensures quick retrieval. When messages become less important or are no longer needed, delete or archive them.

Archive Folder

Certain messages — think receipts, confirmations, and meeting summaries — may not demand immediate attention but should be saved for a certain period of time. Store these emails in an archive folder, and make sure to review it monthly.

Acknowledge Receipt

When you receive an email that requires a response that you don't have time for, always acknowledge its receipt with a message to the sender that you will be in touch soon. This shows consideration and prevents you from receiving subsequent follow-up emails from the sender.

Young man with hands to his mouth in front of laptop, deep in thought while at work.
Source: Shutterstock

Take Sensitive Conversations Offline

Because subtext often gets lost in an email, sending messages of a sensitive nature can create confusion and generate more additions to your inbox than necessary. Help prevent controversy and save time by conducting sensitive conversations over the phone or in person.

Do you have a love-hate relationship with your email inbox? Make your work life more manageable by following one or more of these strategies, and share extra tips with us on Twitter.

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