Friday, February 27, 2015

Tips for a Manageable Email Inbox

Peeking into a student's backpack or dorm room used to be a good indicator of his organizational skills. But these days a student's email inbox may be more revealing than the way he manages his paper load. Information and documents are increasingly distributed to students via email instead of on paper, and many students aren't able to stay on top of their electronic clutter. We considered tips from organizational coach K.J. McCorry, founder of an environmentally-focused organizational consulting business called Eco-Officiency, and did some of our own brainstorming as well, to come up with this advice for students (and, just maybe, parents, too):
  • Reduce: An easy way to combat inbox overflow is to get fewer emails, which can be accomplished in a few ways. First, set up a "dummy" email account and use it for all online purchases and other occasions when you must share your email address with an unimportant third party. This way, if your email address is shared, only your dummy account's inbox will fill up. Second, unsubscribe from solicitations. They may be hard to see, but "unsubscribe" links should be at the bottom of all marketing emails. Don't believe the myth that opening sales emails will cause you to receive more of them; get yourself off all of those lists. 
  • Set-up for success: Nearly all email platforms allow users to create folders. We suggest that students create one folder for each class (chemistry, English, etc.), one for their personal communications, and one for each extra-curricular activity (band, soccer, etc.) in which they are involved. It may sound unattainable, but hear us out: the goal should be to have zero emails in one's inbox because they've all be placed in the right folders.
  • Order of Operations: McCorry recommends checking email about five times a day; a lot more or less than that negatively impacts productivity. Each time a student signs on, McCorry suggests that they first delete all spam and irrelevant messages. Second, they should answer all emails that require only a quick response. Follow the three R's here: Read, Respond, Remove. By skimming quickie emails, jotting a short response ("We're meeting on the second floor of the library. Don't forget to bring notecards!") and dragging these messages to the right folder, inboxes will seem less intimidating in no time.
  • Just Do It (Now): McCorry's steps should leave only a few emails that require careful reading and/or a thoughtful response in a student's inbox. This is great news because it means the important stuff won't get lost in a queue of other messages. McCorry suggests taking care of those time-consuming responses ASAP to avoid creating a backlog in one's inbox. Remember, waiting to respond means having to reread the email later before typing a reply, which is a big waste of time. Instead, students should bite the bullet and respond immediately while the email's contents are still fresh.
There's no single way to manage email, but we hope these tips will help. They certainly work for us!

photo credit: EUNOIA via FlickrCC

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