If I get an email (excluding cold call vendor emails) I try to respond within 24 hours or less. I don’t care if you are my CEO (in which case you get a response right away) or an intern in our company, if you care enough to send me a note, I will respond.
On a normal business day, I get between 200 and 300 emails. Yet, whenever people see my inbox, it surprises them to see that I have less than 10 emails at any given time and often ask that I give them my secret. Here it is:
SPAM: If you get an unsolicited email from someone you don’t know, block it without even reading it. Nowadays, about one-third of all my emails are SPAM. I used to be a good corporate citizen and try to unsubscribe to these emails, but realized that all I was doing was proving to the SPAM robots that this is a real email address so they can put me on more lists.
Inbox: If it’s here (especially if you’re on the ‘To’ list), you need to do something about it. That means responding to it, getting it to the right person or (and this also applies to my “Sent Items” folder), deleting the item or moving it to a folder for future reference. Of course, it’s not always possible to remove every item in this folder so consider each item left in your “Inbox” additions to your “To Do” list.
By the way, my folders are a mix of staff names, project titles, customers, etc. Some people use dates or date ranges. I don’t know of a perfect system and a good email/document search tool (X1, Google Desk Top) is invaluable. Following company retention policy is also important, of course. Don’t keep archived emails too long.
Sent Items: If it’s here, someone owes you a response. By the way, that’s much more obvious to the recipient if it’s only addressed to a single person in the “To” line.
If it’s here too long, it means someone is ignoring me and I remind them (nicely, at first).
And finally, and (almost) most importantly, do this every day before you go to sleep at night because you know there will only be more tomorrow.