If you are overwhelmed by email volume, this is the first of several posts with some ideas of how to regain some control. Let me acknowledge in advance some of the ideas in these posts I learned during a Rocket Matter webinar: Maximizing Productivity With the Emails Glutting Your Inbox, and an episode of the Kennedy-Mighell Report: Powering Up Your Personal Productivity.
The first task is to reduce the sheer number of emails hitting your inbox in the course of a day. A high volume of unimportant email traffic makes it very difficult and time-consuming for you to focus on what is important.
Rule 1: Turn off the Faucet (Unsubscribe Ruthlessly): You are not going to use 98% of the marketing and trade publications you receive via email. Get rid of them. Having them in your inbox just increases your anxiety about the need to read them. If the information is worthwhile, as a general rule there is absolutely no reason for you to receive newsletters, updates, offers, etc. by means of email. More efficient and effective delivery mechanisms now exist for that purpose, none of which ever touch any mailbox. These include setting up RSS feeds for the content you need, and following your information sources on Twitter. The process of transitioning this information also helps you discern and evaluate importance and significance.
Rule 2: Divert the Flow (Transition to Web-Based Email: If you are not comfortable with RSS or other web feeds, transition all of your non-essential traffic to a web-based email service. (Gmail is free, and just recently launched Gmail Priority Inbox, to help sort your messages and contacts based on how important they are). With web-based email, you never need to worry about managing your inbox, and you can access your messages at your leisure. As with above, consider while transitioning whether the information continues to be worthwhile.
To the extent that you receive email notification (and consider whether you should) regarding activity in your social media applications (Twitter follows, Facebook messages, LinkedIn notifications), move those to web-based email, too. Better yet, find a desktop application like Tweetdeck, so that all of your activity in those applications is accessible in one place, and you see that activity by choice.
Rule 3: Don't Use Your Inbox as a Library: Time was I would email myself links, articles, and documents so I could evaluate and save elsewhere later. Consider a program like Evernote, which allows you to keep various types of notes (text, links, pictures, etc.) in "notebooks" you create within the Evernote desktop interface. It puts a button in your browser that allows you to send a webpage (or part of one) directly into your notebooks. Moreover, it syncs up your desktop and your smartphone automatically, and it allows you to easily categorize your notes with "tags" for quick retrieval. And it is free.
Rule 4: Use IM Where Possible For short, frequent communications (e.g. preparing a document for filing with your team), consider instant messaging instead of email. Consider the following exchange: <"Is the document final?" "Add X to the caption and today's date." "Done." "Ready for my signature." "Ok"> With email you have five messages that must be managed. IM gives you an easy communications interface, and no messages to delete or move.
Finally, for all you word sheriffs out there, the proper term is "stanch," not "staunch."