Declutter Your Inbox Like a Pro
Updated: Nov 22, 2022
If you’re anything like us, you keep a ‘zero-inbox’ philosophy. Right? Yeah, right! As much as we try (we really do), our inbox grows every day.
We get more emails in than we can get out. Sure we get a lot of sales emails trying to convince to buy the latest ‘thing’, our fair share of spam and enquiries from people looking to hire us. That was before the pandemic, Black Friday and Cyber Monday teamed up to tip us all over the edge.
Email is a necessary part of doing business in this modern age, but it can be a time drain, sifting through the inbox for hours at end separating the need-to-know from the I-don’t-even-remember-signing-up-to-this-email.
A Zero Inbox isn’t a pipe dream, it’s achievable with a little discipline and a modicum of time management.
We’ve put together some top tips to help you conquer your inbox and give you less stress and more time. No longer will you need to spend the best part of your day on emails and get more anxious that you might be missing out on those messages you really do need to know about. It’s time to declutter that inbox!
SCHEDULE TIME TO TACKLE THE INBOX
Dealing with emails can drain away time from your day like no other. They arrive at random hours of the day and night. Every time we check there will be something new to steal another few minutes from our schedule. No more!
You probably schedule your workday around meetings, lunch, presentations, pitches, and you know, actual work. We think nothing about blocking out time for these things, so why should email be any different?
The first way to help declutter your inbox and reclaim some time is to schedule one or two specific times of the day for email management. Obviously, the time you choose is up to you, but, as an example, you could have 30 minutes at the start of the day and 30 minutes at the end.
The times themselves aren’t really important. The key factor is that you’re creating time that is to solely focused on emails. One (or two) periods of email devotion will make you more productive, providing you learn to ignore them the rest of the time.
If you’re thinking that people will think less of you because you’re not replying immediately to their emails, then let us tell you why that’s not the case.
Instead of half-hearted, rushed responses, you can give them a much more detailed and impactful reply. It will also give the impression that you’re busy and industrious, instead of someone sitting around waiting for any messages to appear.
Most people (us included) used to organise our inboxes by solely date; the latest emails are at the top and descending down chronologically. They all dropped into the same dark pit of chaos.
It can look daunting when it’s just a long, seemingly never-ending list of unread, unorganised messages from a multitude of different sources, but it doesn’t have to be like that. It’s time to add some logic and tame that inbox and for that, you need folders!
Most people only use folders to organise emails after they’ve read them, to 'store (or hoard) them, never to be seen or looked at again. You can utilise them in real-time to categorise emails into manageable groups.
Obviously, the names and amount of folders are up to you, but good places to start include folders for each client, resources, contacts, etc. This doesn’t need any more time from you however.
You can automate your email software to immediately place certain emails into certain folders as they come in. For example, emails from different clients get channelled into their specific folders, based on the email address of the sender or the subject header.
How this is done will vary from software to software, but it should be easy enough to find.
When you’ve sorted your emails, it's time to reply to them. You might find that you spend more time responding using the same stock number of phrases. “Thanks for your message”. “Let me take a look and I’ll get back to you with an answer”, “Yes Mum, I should call you more often” or “Is that really the font you want to use?”. You know the type of thing.
If you recognise that you spend a lot of time writing the same (or similar responses), then it’s time to create a spreadsheet containing all those phrases in one place. You can even do it as an online document and bookmark it for easy access. With it open, you can just copy and paste the most suitable response and power through.
You can go one step further. Gmail, for example, allows you to create templates (go to Settings —> Advanced —> Templates) and you can set them up. Might take a little time initially, but will save you so much more time in the long run.
This one is really aimed at those of your who spend almost all of your email time on mobile devices. Move over Tinder, it’s time we got our swipe on!
Most mobile email clients have gestures that allow you to quickly delete (or archive) those emails that are just clogging up the inbox.
If you only deal with your emails sporadically, then you might be surprised how much time it’s taken up, especially on mobile devices. Find the right folder for it to go in, can drain time from you day.
By using mobile gestures, you can swipe one way to delete and the other to archive. With little practice, you’ll be powering through your inbox like never before (just make sure you know which way is which!).
BREAKAWAY FROM THE EMAIL CHAIN-GANG
If you work in a larger organisation or a corporate behemoth, then you’ll know the pain of those long, rambling email chains where seemingly everyone is copied in and dozens of people are constantly chiming into its ever-growing thread. You know the ones that never seem to go anywhere.
For those of you who recognise this, we feel your pain, but we think we have a solution.
Rather than having 10 or 20+ emails all about the same thing clogging up your inbox, instead, delete every email in the chain, except the latest one. All the replies will still be part of the latest email (even if you delete the earlier ones) if you’re interested or want to catch up, but a quick purge will keep your inbox at manageable levels.
USE FILTER SOFTWARE / ADD-ONS
If all of these tips still aren’t doing it for you, then it’s time to break out the big guns… and by ‘big’ we mean time to pay for additional stuff!
There are a number of pieces of software that are designed specifically to help you with this problem. From more consent-based software like HEY, which gives you a .hey email address when you sign up and holds unsolicited mail in a waiting room (they call it ‘The Screener’).
It’s only when you authorise it does it reach your inbox. If you don’t, they don’t get in, ever!. Think of it as a bouncer for your inbox. This works great if you tend to get a lot of unsolicited mail.
It ultimately divides your email into 3 categories; one for important email, one for non-urgent messages (like newsletters) and the last one is for things you want to keep, but aren’t likely to read (like receipts or invoices).
There is a multitude of other apps, plug-ins and add-ons for most email clients that offer additional services. Some are overlaid giving you new features, others might become the new client. Some are free, others might mean a small investment, but they’ll usually come with some sort of free trial to see if it’s for you.
Email management is a chore at times, but it’s also a skill that, once mastered, frees you up to do more with your working day instead of sorting out a mountain of emails.
Everyone is different so if you’ve got some hints or tips that work for you and you want to share them with our community, just leave a comment below.
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