I was in a two hour meeting this morning — when I came back to my desk, I had 78 new emails.

Usually, I have about 20 messages in my inbox at any given time, but at the end of the day I prefer to get it down to zero if I can. I tend to use the email in my inbox like a ‘to do’ list — I hold on to dates I need to remember, things I need to reply to that require some research or coordination, and reminders for some kind of immediate action.

When I got to my 78 emails, I immediately deleted the stuff I didn’t need, want or care about, and then replied to any that would take me 3 minutes or less.

After that, I reviewed the remainder. For some, I replied that I would review and respond in depth later in the day or week. I set proper expectations before moving them into my follow-up file. For some, I delegated by copying and introducing a recipient, and then handed the conversation off to that person. Some I need to take more time to read and review and consider how I’ll respond. ALL of them will be addressed by the end of the day.

With this practice, it took me about 20 minutes to manage all 78 messages… and I was done! Now as I sit at my desk working away, I’ll respond to incoming mail every 15 minutes or so, and at the end of the day I’ll just have my ‘to do’ list remaining.

Many trainers suggest that we have other people manage our email. Personally, I get a lot positive responses from my business partners about how quickly I respond to email requests, and I’d hate to miss out on that experience. So I’d never have anyone else manage my email!
Tricks to managing a lot of email:

• Read the email! This may sound like a silly suggestion, but sometimes when we don’t fully read our emails before responding the result can be unnecessary follow-up emails. Often the question that I have was actually answered in the original email, but because I was rushing, I didn’t fully read and process the content in its entirety. Then the chain just continues, read thoroughly and respond thoughtfully.

• If you can respond in 3 minutes or less, just do it! This is a sage bit of advice from efficiency expert David Allen’s book Getting Things Done. I highly recommend the book, but in the meantime, if you can get something done in three minutes or less, whether it’s email or something else… just do it!

• Use your folders and file/archive emails that you need for later.

• Use what I call “place holders” — short messages like, “thanks so much for reaching out to me, I’m dashing out to a meeting but I’m looking forward to connecting with you. I’ll reach back out this afternoon when I return at 4:00 PM.” This way, the sender feels connected, and they aren’t left wondering if I got their email or whether I’m going to get back to them.

• Use your out-of-office messages — if you know you’re not available for a period of time, create an out-of-office message to control the flow of information and set up expectations.

• STOP SAVING STUFF. One friend of mine has over 1200 messages in her inbox — she goes in periodically and tries to delete them after reading them, but she holds on to so much that she could just get rid of. That sale at Bloomingdales has passed, and the Chamber of Commerce will be sending you another list of upcoming activities. You don’t need to read them, and you don’t need to save them – become a deleting machine.

• Lastly, remember your ‘unsubscribe’ button and use it. Eventually many that you unsubscribe from will sneak back into your inbox one way or another, but there’s satisfaction in sending them the message that you don’t want their junk mail.

Read, reply, save for later, delete. Don’t let email manage you — manage your email to provide fast, friendly and efficient service.