Granted your career will be made on your ability to get things done, not your your ability to answer emails immediately. But, drowning in emails is a frustrating distraction. Achieving inbox zero is often unrealistic, but reasonable control may be obtainable. Determining what is reasonable control means is different for every user.
Below are suggestions to keep your inbox as lean as possible.
Create electronic folders by subject or client.
Unsubscribe from email lists.
Block junk email addresses.
Turn-off email notifications. These notifications stop concentration and slow productivity.
Commit to an amount of time to attend to emails.
Mark emails unread or flag if email needs future consideration and set a calendar reminder.
Avoid using your inbox as a to-do list.
Send less, receive less. Send only necessary emails.
If an email response will take less than two minutes to process, reply as soon as possible.
Use the "Tools, Organized" or "Tools/Rules" function. Color code emails.
Reuse subject lines and verbiage from sent messages.
Create distribution lists.
Practice email triage - respond to it, task it, archive it or delete it.
The week prior to vacation, add vacation dates to the end of emails.
Start with responding to emails within 24 hours, even if it is just to indicate that you have received the email and will respond in "x" amount of time.
A simple acknowledgment of receipt will lower emails, and increase productivity. You will have fewer people emailing a second or third time for a response, giving you more time to focus on the task at hand.
If an auto response is not your style, consider a desktop sticky note with a few response statements that you can quickly copy and paste in a reply. "I aim to reply within 24 hours, if not sooner." "I would like to run that by a colleague who is out of the office. I will get back to you within the next couple of days, if not sooner."
Do not state that you will respond within a certain amount of time if you are unsure it is possible. In the words of the popular adage, under promise, over-deliver. By setting an expectation for when to expect a thorough response, you are being thoughtful. And if you beat that date, you are no longer the person who took five days to respond: You are the person who said they needed a week but replied two days early.
If you determine that a written response will take too much of your time, consider a face to face or phone call. A few minute conversation can alleviate a possible extended email debate. A face to face or phone call is particularly good choice when emotions, miscommunication and/or complex answers are involved.
Establishing what organizational methods works for you and sticking to it is vital to conquering the email inbox. Sometimes it is just not enough. You may need to consider hiring someone to answer emails for you. Asking for help reveals strength, not weakness.
Do you have email management suggestions? Please comment below.