Email is a tricky thing. I still think it’s one of the most valuable tools that we have, but it’s so easy for it to be taken over by others. As has been said for years, your inbox is essentially a to-do list that is built by other people.
When working through your email, it’s good to remember that. If you have priorities for the day, make sure they retain their importance even as “other people’s agenda” starts piling up in your inbox.
This is also why I’m such a proponent of frequently getting to inbox zero (which I first talked about in 2009, and with more detail and tips in 2013). If you have unread emails in you inbox, it’s difficult to appropriately sort your tasks. Once you’re at zero, you know where your world is and you can make proper decisions about what your highest priority is.
When people are unable to consistently get their inbox to zero, it’s often because they don’t have proper support systems in place and they find it easier to just let things pile up. My full system is laid out here if you need some direction, but it’s essentially just making sure that you have other tools to deal with the content in emails — notes, reminders, calendars, etc. If you have places to put all of the stuff that comes in via email, it’s easier to get your inbox cleaned out and to have a solid overview of everything that you need to do.
Your inbox will always be full of other people’s tasks for you, and your ability to sort through them and prioritize will help you keep everything on track.