Does opening your inbox on a weekday morning make your anxiety soar before you've even sipped coffee? Every day, your inbox ends up cluttered with work emails, promotional offers, news notifications, personal emails, brand newsletters, and so much more. It's no wonder that the average professional spends 28% of the workday reading and answering email.
There's nothing like the ping of an email notification that frays our attention and halts the creative process. We all want to spend less time on email to solve real problems and focus on the tasks and projects that matter. In short, email can be highly detrimental to our productivity if we let it.
To counteract the insanity of our inboxes, we need to create a solid strategy to manage our email workflows better. Here are a few ways to improve your email management skills so your inbox doesn't end up controlling you.
Batch process your email
If you want to divert your attention away from your inbox, you have to set up boundaries through a system called "batching." The "batching" method consists of blocking off time in your calendar to power through your inbox. For example, you could batch process your email from 9:00 - 9:30 AM and 4:00 - 4:30 PM and then ignore it the rest of the time. Studies have shown that "batchers" are more productive, less stressed, and more content. We think that's a pretty compelling argument against reacting to every email notification.
As you are batch processing your email, prioritize the important messages and ignore the rest. If you plan on receiving time-sensitive emails throughout the day, you can filter those into a separate folder so you can view those right away. The main idea behind batching is not to let your inbox run your life — instead, you get to be in control and choose the best time to handle it.
Only keep essential emails in your inbox
Inbox zero may be tough to achieve, but being ruthless about which emails take up space in your inbox is far more manageable.
The goal is to open your inbox and only see your most important messages that require a response. You can achieve this in a couple of ways. The first way is to implement email management software that will use AI technology to organize and prioritize your inbox for you. The other way is the manual route — delete, archive, or move messages to folders as you go through your inbox. In either case, being intentional about what emails take up real estate in your inbox is a great habit of getting in.
Create a folder for emails pending action
So what should you do with important emails that you can't respond to yet? Create a "pending" folder for emails that require action from another recipient before you can reply. This method is a massive time-saver because the message won't take up space in your inbox, but you'll still have an easily referencable folder to view pending conversations. After all, a huge part of controlling your inbox is just keeping track of where you can find them!
Create template responses
If you look through your inbox, you'll likely notice a trend in emails you respond to. Emails can usually be categorized (scheduling meetings, communicating with your boss, writing to clients, confirming appointments, etc.) Instead of starting each new email from scratch, writing out stock templates you'll use frequently will save you time when you're responding.
To start using email templates, go into your Gmail settings and enable canned responses (click on the gear icon on the top right-hand side of your inbox, choose "Settings" from the dropdown, click the "Advanced" tab, and hit "Enable" next to "Canned Responses.") You can also use a plugin such as MixMax.
Use email filters
A little preparation will save you lots of inbox headaches in the long run. Setting up filters will help you sort email automatically when it arrives in your inbox. There are two essential elements required to create a filter — the term to look out for and the action to apply if the term is recognized. Terms may include specific email addresses, keywords in the body text, subject lines, and more. Depending on the filter, the email will be automatically sorted into a respective folder or archived. This process minimizes the amount of organization you have to do yourself.
Implement labels, folders, and subfolders
Email labels and easy-to-find folders are your friends. Use them to group important email chains to locate information quickly. The average office worker receives around 121 emails per day, so organization is key!
You could use labels to group emails from specific senders. For example, if you're a freelancer, you might implement a label for each client you work for. You can also label emails based on their content — for example, emails related to a specific work project or emails related to your finances, family, or travel plans. The options are endless, but the best part is how easily referencable your inbox will become once you have a system in place.
Work on your email etiquette
Email is like Tetris — the more you send, the more appear. Realizing that you don't need to respond to every email you receive will help make your inbox more manageable. Follow this rule — only respond to emails that require a response. It's that simple! If the costs of responding don't outweigh the benefits, maybe don't worry about it.
Another great habit to adopt is keeping emails short and sweet. Stick to five sentences or less in most cases and only include the necessary information. Lengthy emails will only waste your recipient's time, and nobody wants to skim through long paragraphs of text struggling to find your point.