I don’t know about you, but sometimes I wake up and feel like I spend my day trying not to drown in my inbox. Obviously, this isn’t a problem only I face; nearly every professional I know struggles with getting through his or her messages.
There is some good news, though: There are definitely ways to make your inbox more manageable—and to find some I went straight to the experts. Below are the habits five of the busiest people in the world use to conquer their emails. See which ones you can start using to improve your strategy.
1. They Respond Quickly
Eric Schmidt, the executive chairman of Google, has some seemingly counterintuitive advice: Respond quickly to emails in your inbox. He explains his rationale for doing so on VentureBeat:
There are people who can be relied upon to respond promptly to emails, and those who can’t. Strive to be one of the former. Most of the best—and busiest—people we know act quickly on their emails, not just to us or to a select few senders, but to everyone.
While you don’t necessarily have to respond to every email within three minutes of it appearing in your inbox, make a note of how long it would really take you. If you think a message will only take a 30-second or two-word reply, just answer it as you read it. If it’s going to require a longer response, send a quick email back letting the person know that you’ve seen it and when you’ll respond. You’ll immediately get some street cred for your respectfulness and attentiveness.
2. They Make Email Fun
Former Facebook exec and media company founder Randi Zuckerberg has some email advice that’ll make you want to break out the chips and guacamole: Have an inbox clearing party with some of your colleagues or friends.
Bring out the wine, blast a great playlist, vent about how you hate drowning in email—and then focus the next few hours on clearing out as many messages as you possibly can, while sharing funny messages you find, or pro-tips you discover along the way.
Going through your inbox doesn’t have to be done in silence at the office by yourself; it can actually be a strangely collective experience that potentially brings you and your colleagues together (because who doesn’t love to hate on email?).
Oh, and obviously skip the alcohol if you’re actually planning to respond to messages and aren't just tossing them in the trash. Or, take Jen Dziura’s advice and write some of your more difficult emails while tipsy—but then save them as drafts and read over them the next day before you actually hit “send.”
3. They Schedule “No Email” Time
Take a page from the playbook of one of the leaders of the free world, Barack Obama: Your personal time is sacred, so don’t spend it forever on a quest to get to inbox zero. As reported by 99U:
The president has three moments in his schedule that are unquestionably his: the morning workout, his dinner with his daughters, and the nighttime after his family falls asleep.
While it may seem easy to squeeze in just one more email during off-hours, make it a habit of saying no. There will always be emails to answer and people who claim their messages are urgent or important. Drawing that line means that you’ll be more productive when you actually need to get down to business.
4. They Use it to Get Organized
While I wouldn’t necessarily recommend using your inbox as your to-do list, LearnVest founder Alexa von Tobel does have an exception to this rule that she shared with Lifehacker:
I also am in the habit of emailing myself notes, since I live in my inbox. On Sunday nights I sit down and make lists of everything that needs to happen the next week. I shoot myself an email so that I can sleep more easily (the to-dos are out of my head), and I can rest assured knowing that the list will be waiting for me in the AM.
By making your to-do list when you still have everything on your mind (instead of in the morning when you’re sleepy or groggy), you free up another part of your day to be spent on actual projects instead of planning what you’re going to do.
5. They Get a Head Start in the Mornings
Numerous busy people, like AOL CEO Tim Armstrong and Virgin Money CEO Jayne-Anne Gadhia, start off their days getting through their inboxes. Gadhia has good reason for doing so:
First thing I do is look at my emails and answer any outstanding. I can’t stand having any not done!
Obviously you’ll still have to spend time throughout your day getting through emails, but having a head start could make things easier, as well as make you aware of what things you need to do as soon as you get into the office.
There’s a reason many of these super busy people are so successful, and snagging a little email productivity tip here and there never hurts!