Overwhelmed by your inbox? Bad news: It won't get better. Scanning subject lines/senders and deleting without actually opening emails will not work. You will inevitably miss something important. But there are ways to manage your email and learning this skill will pay off now and long after you leave UW-Madison and enter the work place.
Here are some steps to get things under control.
1. Unsubscribe. Getting coupons you'll never use? Newsletters you never read? Set aside some time to unsubscribe from all of these. An hour spent doing this now will save you considerable time later. If you miss it, you can always re-subscribe.
2. Commit to only checking your email at designated times. Turn off the notifications on your desktop and smartphone. Stop obsessively checking your email every few minutes to see what's there. Check it a few times a day and spend a set amount of time processing your inbox during those times. You'll be more productive in everything you do if you can focus uninterrupted on studying or working, instead of stopping every five minutes to check and respond to emails. Resist the urge.
3. Process email immediately. Create three folders: "To Do", "Wait" and "Reference". Read all your new messages and act immediately. If an email only requires a quick response (less than 1-2 minutes), respond (during your designated email time, of course). The rest should be filed according to the action required (or deleted, if appropriate).
If the email requires more than just a quick response, file it in the "To Do" folder and add the action item(s) to your to-do list, task list, planner, etc. On your to-do list, you can prioritize particular tasks by importance and set deadlines. Once you complete the item, go back and delete the email from the folder.
If you have to wait on someone or something else before taking action, put it in the "Wait" folder. Add a follow-up reminder to your to-do list or calendar, if necessary. If the email is just an FYI or something you may need to reference later, add it to your "Reference" folder.
Most email programs have pretty robust search options. You don't need a million folders to keep track of things. By using fewer folders you only have to search in a few places instead of having to open many folders to search in each.
By processing every email immediately after reading, you only have to read once. In contrast, reading and leaving your emails in your inbox often means you use the inbox as a "to-do" list. This requires inefficiently re-reading messages several times while the lingering messages clutter your inbox and make it more difficult to process newer emails.
4. Reduce your incoming emails. Want less email? Send less email. Always ask yourself if email is the most efficient option. Make an effort to keep your emails short and to the point (some say an email should be no more than five sentences), making it easier for someone to respond in the same way. Less reading means time saved.
Want more ideas? Check out these additional resources:
Zen Habits: Clear Out Your Inbox
43Folders Inbox Zero Series
Lifehacker: Empty Your Inbox with the Trusted Trio
Gmail Blog (This blog can help Gmail users discover tons of features to be more efficient. Win!)