Drowning in emails? A review by Kingston University suggests the four rules of keeping on top of your inbox - plus 5 successful women share their top tips

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No matter how hard you try, do you feel like you’re fighting a losing battle with your inbox? You're not alone. But a new review by Kingston University has identified the four rules of staying on top of your emails after a comprehensive study on academic papers about the subject.

So what are the golden rules for a happier inbox? According to the experts:

1. Delete and/or file emails away whenever you check your inbox.

2. Switch off email alerts so they don't distract you from the task in hand - but check your emails every 45 minutes.

3. Use 'delay send' options such as Boomerang  for Gmail to schedule emails for normal working hours.

4. Make sure your own emails have a purpose and are as efficient as possible.

As any good battle strategy dictates, strength lies in numbers so we asked 5 leading ladies in the fashion and  beauty industries  what tricks they employ to ensure they stay afloat despite the daily wave of tasks, reminders and meeting invitations inundating their inboxes every day.

Jessica Diner

Beauty and Lifestyle Director at Vogue

Working with an inbox that seems to constantly be flooded, it’s difficult to keep on top of it all. I can’t say it’s fool-proof, but here are a few tips that I do every day that help me to stay on top of things:

1) FLAG: I LOVE to flag. I flag emails that I have read but haven’t had time to reply to, or ones that require me to find out more information and come back to it later. I refer to them periodically throughout the day, but specifically at the start and end of each day. Then on Friday morning, I set aside an hour to clear through the remaining flags that have been left un-replied to throughout the week and get back to them.

2) OPEN: I open and minimise emails in my dock that need me to review something. Once that project is then finished, I then close that email. If it’s ongoing, I leave it open and sitting in my dock so that it acts as a live to-do list.

3) EMAIL MYSELF: I email myself ALL DAY. Little reminders, to-do lists, people to call, ideas etc. and then I then go through these every morning and action what I need to do.

4) FOLDERS: I have folders for every aspect of my job - editorial, social, admin, HR, special projects… it’s a looooong list of folders. I file all emails that have been answered and dealt with into these folders, so that my inbox effectively is just stuff that is all live and in progress. It sometimes doesn’t always work that way and I forget to file, but that’s the plan anyway!

5) DELETE: You would never leave all your mail from the post in a massive pile on your counter, and the same is with your email inbox. I delete chains of email conversations, so that I only have the newest one in my inbox in any one given time, and I delete anything that I have no use for. You have to be ruthless!

Reena Hammer

Managing Director at  Urban Retreat

For me, the key to organising my inbox is filing. No email ever gets deleted as you never know when you might need it. I have an extensive system of about 200 files and then more sub files which ensure I can always find what I need faster than most people. I have a file for almost everything: including every brand (we stock over 80 in Urban Retreat), each department, every member of my team, every project and the list goes on.

I always tackle my inbox with extreme care. If I see over 80 emails building up that I haven’t dealt with, I start to panic, so before I do anything I get these down to 30; that’s my physiological ok number. On average, I receive around 200 emails a day and if I’ve have a busy day away from my desk in meetings it can often be a daunting task to tackle. One trick I have learnt is to always view things in conversations; this ensures I do not waste time replying to something my team has already dealt with. Alongside my inbox, I have my to-do list and my lists for the team which I keep in my phone and in my Symthson notebook.

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Donna Ida Thornton

CEO of  Donna Ida

I try to keep it down to a dull roar but you have to work on it all day every day to keep things from slipping. Especially during buying season, emails from trade shows and showrooms flood in constantly.

Anything that is generic I clock it and then delete straight away. Anything that I can answer quickly and immediately I do it then and there. And then the things that need more attention I flag. I try to keep my inbox really tight, so that when I open my laptop I only have what is in the reading view to address. And I file emails. I file loads so I can always refer to them but they are out of my inbox. I find a messy inbox quite stressful.

Oh and my top tips are to unsubscribe to all social media notifications and unsubscribe to any shopping emails from brands that you do not genuinely shop from or aspire to/admire.

Rebecca Hopkins

Rebecca Hopkins, Co-Founder & Director of  Balance Me

It is true that emails can be distracting and constantly checking for the latest is addictive. The way I am able to cope with the volume of emails I receive each day is to prioritise when I log into my account.

I will check emails first thing before leaving home in case I have something urgent from overnight and then spend my first 20 minutes at the office going through them in more detail and prioritising the most urgent. I will then make a note on my ‘To Do’ list of who I must get back to when. If I’m in the office over lunch, I will check them again and likewise before I leave for the evening.

My two top tips are: 1) to never to check emails just before bedtime. It can cause a night of worry and usually 99% of the content can wait until you are fresh in the morning! And 2) to ensure your subject is clear to engage with the recipient. I will often ignore emails if the subject looks too confusing or possibly not relevant. I will mean to go back to these but invariably other matters take over my day and before I know it, the next 24 hours of correspondence comes flooding in and the unopened mails are pushed further down the list!

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Jay Squier

Founder & Director, Lion Communications

I create folders for each category.

Once a project is complete or an email is fully dealt with, it gets filed into the relevant folder or deleted.

I delegate and focus on what I truly need to get done that day. While I am perfectly able to send an image cut-out to someone, that to me is an easy email I can forward to my PR assistant while I complete another task.

When I'm managing a team I encourage them to ask me things in person rather than email if I am there. For this reason, unless I am working on strategy or writing a document my door is always open.

My top tips would be to ignore the little email alerts that pop up when you're in the middle of something. Easier said than done I know. Stick to your to-do list and be disciplined about who you truly need to respond to. Being a good PR is about being proactive and creative. We are bombarded with emails and opportunities but my main question before I spend time on something is, ‘is this good for the brand?’

Be mindful of who you copy and don't copy on emails. Like you, they are likely to be drowning in emails too.

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