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12 ways to regain control of your inbox and avoid an email tsunami

It’s your first morning back in the office. You’ve had an amazing two weeks and this time last week you were laying on the beach. This morning however, you were brutally awakened by the alarm clock – and it’s back to reality. After grabbing a coffee, you’ve opened your inbox and there are 500+ emails awaiting you. Where do you start?

Here are some ideas to help you tackle a post-holiday email tsunami:

  • Talk to people. This may sound a bit obvious, but ask your colleagues and boss what’s going on so you get a clear picture. Then look for emails related to what you’ve learnt.
  • Scan through the subject lines to give yourself a feeling of what’s going on before you open anything.
  • Move all emails into a new folder. That way you’ll only have the freshest of emails in your inbox.
  • Work your way backwards. Start with the most recent emails. A lot of them will be part of a chain anyway, and the most recent parts will be the most relevant.
  • Sift through the bulk. First delete anything that is obviously irrelevant.
  • Sort the emails into categories. Who are the most important people you’re working with? Maybe start with emails from a certain client? Or your boss?
  • Are they low, medium or high priority? Would the sender agree with your rating?
  • Thank people. Thank anyone who has covered for you, thank your clients for waiting etc.
  • Set up a new automatic message. Explain that you’ve just got back, that you’re working your way through your emails, and that you’ll be in touch as soon as you can. Invite people to give you a call if it’s really urgent.
  • If you’re only copied in, then move these emails into another folder.
  • Decide on what you’re going to do about the emails. Which ones are you going to answer now? Which ones later? Try marking them with colored flags to show what you’re going to do. If something is literally going to take a minute to answer, do it now.
  • Make a to-do list based on the emails you didn’t delete.

Lastly, congratulate yourself quickly on getting through the emails, then get down to your to-do list!