I find it amazing and sometimes a little scary at the ease by which I can communicate with IT professionals and PR folks from around the world – via e-mail alone. But that ease often results in a tidal wave of e-mails in my e-mail box. Over the years, I’ve developed some ways to manage the products of this great tool. In this blog, I’ll share those tips.

Set a time to reply all your mails

Productivity gurus have long advocated setting a time (or two) in the day to reply all your mails at one go. The idea is that the constant dabs of e-mails arriving serves to become yet another source of interruption. Add in the phone and your colleagues stopping by your cubicle for a chat, it forms a formidable barrier to productivity.

The rationale behind the set time for replying to e-mail is that most e-mail messages require a decision, and good decision requires focus. In fact, some people even go as far as to have a recurring appointment marked as busy so they can make time each day to process all e-mails.

Obviously, this doesn’t mean you can’t scan through your mail occasionally to address mails that are truly important or urgent.

Clear your inbox

I once had a user whose mailbox was packed with e-mails that stretched back four years. No kidding. There were e-mails from as far back as 2004 stashed in the inbox alone. In fact, the only reason it stopped at 2004 was because a member of this woman’s staff took it upon himself to clear some even older mails – for which he was severely reprimanded.

While it’s a perfectly reasonable desire to want to archive or keep your mails on the off-chance that you might need them again, having a huge amount of mail in your inbox is really counter-intuitive. Let’s be honest, the likelihood of your replying to an e-mail escalates towards zero the longer it stays in your inbox. It’s like having a real-world in-tray that never gets cleared.

Anyway, in the case of the above user, the number of mails was so numerous that it actually triggered an inexplicable bug that prevented Microsoft Outlook from downloading new mails. Not to mention that it slowed the system noticeably.

File, file, file

File away your e-mails once you’ve responded to them. File them away even if you’re in doubt. Getting e-mails that are irrelevant–or with informational-only contents–out of the way will definitely help in your pursuit of a clear inbox.

Some go one step further and aggressively delete e-mails once they’ve attended to them. Personally, I prefer the security of having my old mails around.

I file them away into appropriately named folders. If necessary, you can also set up server-side rules to automatically shift regular newsletters or other mails directly into a lower priority folder that you attend to.

What about you? What techniques do you employ to deal with your e-mails?