Email overload is a major problem for most professionals these days. The best advice is usually the simplest. Here's some simple advice: have a really basic system that you apply to your professional email. My friend Andrea Cannavina (of Legal Typist fame) gave a talk recently where she advocated using the “DAFT system”: that is, for all incoming email you either defer, act, file or toss.
I use this system, and my favorite part is the toss. When I get up in the Morning the first thing I do is scan my email and delete all the junk. As I'm doing that I scan the subject lines to see if there is anything urgent that requires immediate attention (usually there isn't).
I don't open any emails. And I make decisions about deleting mostly based only on the subject line and the sender. If someone sends me a joke I read it and delete the email; I rarely forward email jokes because most of them make their way to others without my help. I might forward an email joke to one or two people if I think (1) they wouldn't have received it, and (2) they would find it funny.
Deleting emails is the hardest part for most people, and that was true for me too. That's why I always start my review in “delete mode.” Once you build up momentum it's easier. Deleting eliminates clutter for later when you come back to do the harder work of deciding what to defer, file or act on.
What strategies do you use to manage your professional email?