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Navigating Email Overwhelm

Navigating email overwhelm

I’ve had a few very busy months, and consequently had a hard time keeping up with my emails. I managed to keep up with some of it, but my backlog grew and grew, until I had nearly 400 emails that required a response from me. Some of these were relatively short responses, but many of these required an elaborate response, commenting on a file, or something else rather intensive and time-consuming (which is also the reason why I didn’t get to these emails in the first place).

And so I found myself with a major email backlog that would take days, potentially weeks, to recover from.

Here’s how I dug myself out of this hole:

  • I first sorted emails into folders: I’ve been using my folder system in my mailbox for quite a while. I have been using the following categories for years now: ACI Avances (the journal I manage), Adeline & Personal (most personal things go to my personal email account anyway), Admin & Email, Blog, Contacts & Meetings & Appointments (essentially, random emails to answer and meetings I need to schedule), Research, Service, Teaching and students, Writing. The one change I made was to add a folder titled “_Urgent” (the underscore helps me have this folder on top of all others).
  • Check how many emails I have in each category. Estimate how many hours I would need to plow through all of this.
  • Prioritize. I used numbers 1 (Teaching and students, Research, Writing), 2 (Admin, Contacts) and 3 (remaining categories) to see what has priority. The _Urgent folder has priority over all the rest.
  • I scheduled in time for each category based on the priority. I also find it easier to reply a number of emails related to one topic (such as teaching) together, than to switch between topics.
  • I executed my plan. Well, kind of – my kid got sick in the first week in which I had scheduled in blocks to catch up on all these emails so I was juggling childcare at home and trying to get work done.

This strategy, in a nutshell, is what helped me get out of my rotting mailbox.

What do you do when you get behind on email?

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