Take Control of Your Email Overload

Like most students, e-mail was probably not your primary tool for communicating with others while in school. But, if you graduated and started your first job this summer, it’s likely your inbox is now overflowing. Managing your e-mail is vastly different than the text messages on your phone. It’s not as easy to just delete messages that you may need in the future.

I read an article the other day that says the average worker spends 650 hours/year reading and answering e-mail. This is staggering – and certainly explains why a full inbox can quickly become overwhelming and cause missed assignments and deadlines.

Personally, I’ve been trying to gain control of my inbox for some time now, and sometimes I wish I could simply start over. Below are four tips that might help you get ahead of the e-mail madness before it gets ahead of you in your new career.

1)      Check E-mail at Set Times

First, turn off all “new mail” notifications. In most cases, if there is an urgent matter that needs your immediate attention, the other person is likely to call you rather than e-mail you. So, you don’t necessarily need to have a pop-up window announce every new message into your inbox. In fact, this can distract you from getting your work done.

Second, set specific times during the day to check e-mail. When you set aside time for this task, you can manage your inbox more productively, answer messages more efficiently and be more focused on your work without constant interruptions from the notifications. You might even consider setting a daily appointment on your calendar for administrative tasks and include e-mail in this time slot.

2)      Use Automatic Rules

Automatically send low priority messages to separate folders, not your inbox. For example, if you subscribe to e-newsletters or receive auto notifications from Twitter, Facebook or other sites, set up a rule that moves these messages out of view until you’re ready to spend time managing them. Reading these messages during a designated “reading” time each week will help you stay more focused on your job while also giving you time to catch up on articles and other mail regularly.

3)      The Two-Minute Rule

When you find yourself sorting through your inbox, if you can respond to a message in under two minutes, do so immediately. This moves that message out of your way and helps clear your inbox. If a message requires more thought or action, save it for your designated e-mail time.

4)      Delete or File

For every message you open, you should either delete or file it when you’re finished with it. Do not leave it in your inbox. And, unless you need to save a message for documentation, chances are you can delete it.

When filing messages, create folders for actions like “Waiting” for messages that you are waiting on someone else for further action, “Reading” for messages that don’t necessarily require an action but you’d like to read later, and “Archive” for any messages that you’d like to save for future reference.

There are two thoughts when it comes to your Archive folder – you can either create subfolders for specific projects/topics or you can create just one “archive” folder. As search capabilities and the ability to add tags to your messages improve, having just one “archive” folder makes the filing of messages easier and easier.

Some experts say it’s best to end each day with an empty inbox. While I’ve yet to reach this ideal, I do believe that approaching e-mail more effectively will help you stay in control and prevent you from missing important messages that can easily get lost in a sea of e-mail. And, while not all of these tips will work for everyone, having a plan for managing your e-mail will help keep the overall number of messages left in your inbox each night to a minimum.

Most importantly, managing your incoming e-mail is an important step in keeping your work life organized – which has a direct correlation to your success and how others perceive your abilities to get the job done. Your reputation in the office and as a worker will rely on your ability to be organized. If you start good habits now, they’ll reward you later.


Trish is a senior communications manager for Sodexo, a world leader in quality of daily life solutions that contribute to the progress of individuals and the performance of organizations. As a member of the marketing and communications team for Sodexo’s Talent Acquisition department since 2010, Trish is an employment expert who aims to educate job candidates about the hiring process, networking opportunities and the culture of Sodexo. A graduate of Marist College (BA – Psychology) and the University of Southern Mississippi (MS – Public Relations), Trish has never been far from the classroom. As a former adjunct professor for the College of Charleston and professional advisor for the college’s Public Relations Student Society of America chapter, she enjoys helping students reach for their potential and guide them through the process of preparing for their future careers. A lover of technology and gadgets, cookies, chocolate and baking, Trish spends most of her free time raising two small children and competing with husband to obtain the most stamps in her National Parks Passport book. Feel free to connect with Trish or learn more about careers at Sodexo.

Related posts:

  1. Email: Ten Things You Must Do
  2. What’s Your Email Style?
  3. Workplace Basics: The Art and Science of Being Organized

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