Why it’s okay to let unanswered emails sit in your inbox

April 6, 2015, 5:30 PM UTC
Courtesy of Teknion

MPW Insider is an online community where the biggest names in business and beyond answer timely career and leadership questions. Today’s answer for: How do you manage email overload? is written by Maxine Mann, president of Teknion U.S.

Today, it can seem as though the emails are never ending. And the quest to keep up with every single one can appear daunting because you’re torn between two tasks: actually getting work done and responding in a timely manner. But emails don’t have to be a huge obstacle. It is possible to manage your email overload efficiently and be productive–here are a few ways to do so:

Set aside time exclusively for email
Although emails come in throughout the day, you can better manage them by carving out specific times to read and answer them—the beginning, middle, and end of each day. Think of it as any other appointment and devote an hour at these different points in the day to make sure you’re on top of any pertinent emails. Doing so will help ensure you meet all of your work obligations without constantly being distracted by email.

Prioritize your messages
Organize emails by separating the ones that are timely from those that can wait more than 24 hours for a response—and make sure you keep on top of them. Too often every single email can feel like a fire drill, but the fact of the matter is that there are some emails that can wait for a response. Don’t feel pressured to respond to every message immediately or even within a day –it will help relieve stress and actually make you more productive.

Leave unread messages unread
Given the amount (and speed) at which we receive emails, if you “read” an email but don’t answer it right away, there is a better chance it will get lost in your inbox. And you may find yourself not having answered emails from a week ago (or longer). Use this as a reminder to answer those emails that are important, but not as time sensitive.

Eliminate unnecessary emails
Plenty of us sign up for industry newsletters that we never read. While our intentions are good, it is simply impossible to keep up with everything. Pick one source of news and unsubscribe from all other emails. If you absolutely feel as though these newsletters are important to your job, reduce the frequency of these emails from daily to weekly. This way you can still receive important news while reducing the clutter in your inbox.

Avoid the reply-all trap
There are definitely emails that require a group distribution and response, but all too often there isn’t a need for everyone to be on every single email. If you’re in a position of leadership, ask to be taken off the group email distribution after the initial email. Instead ask for a brief summary on the issue once it has been resolved or the team makes a decision.

Read all answers to the MPW Insider question: How do you manage email overload?

Never check your email before noon — here’s why by Maren Kate Donovan, CEO of Zirtual.

How to become an email guru by Kara Goldin, founder and CEO of Hint Water.

Email etiquette: 3 do’s and don’ts by Tonya Love, manager of business relations and marketing at Xerox Research Center Europe.

How to empty your inbox (and keep it empty) by Julie Larson-Green, CXO of applications and services group at Microsoft.

Hate email? Here’s 5 ways to deal by Sheri Hickok, chief engineer of Next Generation Full Size Trucks at General Motors.

How to manage your inbox (before it manages you) by Camille Preston, founder of AIM Leadership.

Ivanka Trump: 5 tips for managing email overload by Ivanka Trump, executive vice president of development and acquisitions at the Trump Organization.

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