How to Manage Email Inbox Overload and Actually Get Stuff Done

Inbox overload can be a real struggle. So what do you do? How about organizing your emails in folders, only to find that this is easier said than done. To manage email clutter and stay sane, try the following strategies:
– Set up an actionable folder of important tasks for yourself
– Using Boomerang or similar apps can save time by automatically scheduling emails to come back at certain dates and times
– Use Gmail’s “Send Later” feature which lets you schedule future messages with plans to retrieve them later

If you’re like me, then you may have trouble managing your email inbox. There are a few tips and tricks to help with this issue.

I receive a lot of correspondence as someone who earns his livelihood exclusively online. Instead of researching and generating content for our wonderful readers, Kate and I used to spend almost an entire day sifting through and processing email. We despised those all-day email marathons. We’d feel relieved that we’d emptied our inboxes at the end, but anxious that we hadn’t gotten to what was most essential to us and the site. Even if we had the time to write, our willpower had been depleted by having to make so many decisions about how to react that we just didn’t have the mental energy or attention to switch to another activity.

We’re not the only ones who feel tired and tethered to our email. Recent studies, according to the L.A. Times, have shown that the typical employee spends up to a third of their day responding email rather than completing actual work. Because of the time drain generated by email, several organizations have implemented harsh no-email rules to drive their staff to be more productive.

When email was invented, the goal was to make communication easier and more efficient. It still can, but it’s more often than not transformed into a time-sucking, stress-inducing, legacy-work-destroying monster. How can we defeat the terrible beast that has taken up residence in our inboxes and restore harmony to the land?

While I still haven’t figured out how to successfully manage my email, I’ve come a long way over the years. Responding to emails now takes up a far less portion of my day than it used to. I’ll share what I’ve learned about reducing the quantity of email I get and processing it fast and efficiently in the sections below. I strongly advise you to put many of these actions into action as soon as you finish reading them; it’s all too easy to put off taking action in this area and then never get around to it. Do it right now!

First, listen to our podcast with Cal Newport to learn why email is making us all unhappy and what we can do about it: 

 

How to Reduce the Number of Emails Received

Reduce the quantity of emails that arrive in your inbox as the first step toward mastering your email. Here’s how to do it.

Disable social networking site alerts. You don’t need to get emails every time someone replies to a tweet or leaves a remark on Facebook, or when someone connects with you on LinkedIn. Why have those updates clutter up your email when you’ll see them when you visit those sites anyway? Furthermore, the alerts are nothing more than potential diversions. (“Ooo… a remark was left on my Facebook picture. “Let me have a look at it…” *spends an additional 20 minutes on Facebook*) Turn off ALL email alerts by going to the account settings pages on all of the social media sites where you have an account.

Unsubscribe from bacn in bulk. The majority of email companies do a good job of keeping spam out of your inbox. What can you do, though, about the newsletters and discount offers you’ve signed up for over the years? These are emails that you’ve subscribed to but never open, clutter up your inbox, and are annoying. Pronounced “bacon” (it’s a techie term – it’s “better than spam, but not quite as good as a personal message”), these are emails that you’ve subscribed to but never open, clutter up your inbox, and are annoying. Because you gave permission (even if you didn’t recognize it at the time), it’s technically not spam email. Bacn may be beneficial in certain cases (like The Art of Manliness newsletter! ), but it’s typically a pain.

 

Unsubscribe from lists you don’t want to be on to get a grasp on your bacn. The difficult and time-consuming method to do this is to open each undesired message as it arrives and select the “unsubscribe” button therein. Using one of the numerous bulk unsubscribe solutions available on the market would be a more efficient method.

I utilize the website Unroll.me. When you connect your Gmail or Yahoo account to Unroll.me, the service searches your inbox for subscription emails. Unroll.me will then show you a list of email addresses that seem to be subscribers and ask you whether you want to “add to Rollup” or “unsubscribe.” If you unsubscribe, you will no longer get that email. If you still want to receive certain subscription emails, you may merge them all into a single email digest (called your Rollup).

Unroll.me does a good job of capturing all those subscription emails, but a few still make it through. You can also use the search option in your email to look for “unsubscribe.” That should bring up the majority of your subscription emails, and then it’s simply a question of going through them and unsubscribing from the ones you don’t want to receive any more.

It would be a good idea to set up a “burner email” that you can send to websites or organizations who demand an email from you to utilize their service to avoid additional bacn in the future. MailDrop is a great tool for making fake email addresses when you don’t want to give out your genuine one.

Set up filters to eliminate the annoyance of FWD: emails. We’ve all received those obnoxious FWD: chain emails with some political tirade or urban legend. They’re frequently sent by a small group of individuals in your address book, such as an aunt or that squirmy-looking coworker in the next cubicle over.

Put these emails in a separate folder. This filter is simple to create in Gmail. (Other email applications perform the same thing; we’re simply emphasizing the Gmail procedure.)

Vintage Gmail inbox page.

Click “More” and then “Filter messages like this” when you get an inappropriate forward from someone.

Vintage Gmail page header.

Add “fwd or fw” to the topic line.

Gmail page click continue and check inbox.

“Continue” should be selected. Then choose “Skip Inbox (Archive)” and “Forwards” as a label.

Now, if that individual sends you a forward, it will go straight to the folder you just made. Once a week, go through everything again in case one of their forwards is truly relevant.

Make sure your emails don’t lead to additional emails. One issue with email is that it often leads to more email. An outgoing email receives two replies on average. The phenomenon is known as the Email Boomerang Effect, according to the Asian Efficiency Blog. For instance, suppose you write an email with an open-ended query such as:

“Can you tell me when you’d want to get together?”

 

“Monday,” they say in response.

“Monday isn’t going to be a good day for me,” you say. “How do you feel about Tuesday?”

“Sure,” they say. “What time is it?”

“2 p.m.?” you say.

“2 p.m. isn’t good,” they say. “How about 5 o’clock?”

And so on.

Most of those emails might have been avoided if the first open-ended query had been replaced with one that elicited a yes/no answer, such as “Let’s meet this week.” I’m accessible between the hours of 12 p.m. and 5 p.m. on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. Which of those dates/times works for you, and if so, which one?” They provide the date and time in their response. Close the email thread.

Here are some more email writing tactics that don’t trigger the Email Boomerang Effect.

  • Use caution while using CC. Every individual you add to an email thread is merely waiting for a response. Only include persons who are absolutely necessary in the discussion to avoid unnecessary emails.
  • Include a non-response default action if possible. When you create an email containing a question, make sure the question has a default action that doesn’t need your recipient to respond. When preparing an event, for example, you may send an email that says, “I’m going to arrange the conference room for Tuesday at 3PM.” I’ll presume you’re alright if I don’t hear from you by tomorrow.” You won’t receive a response if the individual doesn’t have an issue with it. Boom. You’ve simply cut down on the quantity of email you get.
  • Start the subject line with “FYI” and conclude it with NRN. Many of the emails you send are only informative and do not demand a response. In the subject line, start with “FYI” and conclude with “NRN” to let your recipient know (no response needed). “FYI: Latest corporate report. NRN,” for example.
  • Sending emails is not a good idea. The most straightforward way to avoid the Email Boomerang Effect is to send email only when absolutely essential.

Create obstacles. One of email’s greatest benefits is also its greatest disadvantage: there are few obstacles to sending an email in terms of time, effort, or humiliation, so individuals will send one without much consideration.

You had to send a letter or call a friend, media source, or company not long ago if you wanted to communicate with them. Just because technology has made connecting with nearly everyone instantaneous and relatively anonymous doesn’t mean people have the right to try to connect with you whenever and wherever they want, and you aren’t obligated to make yourself available to anyone who asks; an invention may change expectations, but it doesn’t make them reasonable or civilized. To put it another way, technology has made communication simpler, but it hasn’t diminished the value of your time.

So, if you own your own company and get a lot of unwanted email, don’t feel terrible about putting up barriers to your inbox. People who utilize our buddy Antonio Centeno’s contact form vow not to ask questions that can be answered in 10 minutes of searching and to conduct a nice deed if he responds to their email within 23 hours.

 

Gmail page contact Antonio and the team RMRS.

Contact form for Antonio. Before you contact him, you must swear not to ask him any silly questions.

Kate and I took the even more drastic step of removing our contact form entirely over a year ago. Instead, people may reach out to us by sending a tweet or mailing an actual letter. We did this because, as previously said, email was taking up an increasing amount of our time. And 90% of it was garbage: commercial and PR pitches, grammatical corrections, inquiries that could be addressed with a Google search, or questions about whether they had won a five-year-old contest. But it was when I read something about how communication should be, and used to be, equal; when you speak to someone on the phone or exchange letters, you spend about the same amount of time on either side of the conversation. However, with email, someone may ask a question in two minutes that would take me 10 minutes to respond to. The time investment balance between the sender and the responder was completely out of whack.

Getting rid of the contact form relieved us of a significant amount of static, worry, and wasted time. It was incredible. I’m sure it irritates a few individuals who think they have a right to immediate contact, but the few times I’ve heard from them, it turns out they were trying to send the very type of meaningless message the barrier is designed to prevent! We are delighted to respond to every letters that we receive. But, to be honest, we don’t receive a lot of them. Surprisingly, things that were formerly significant to people became less so once they had to apply some preparation and devote as much time to their enquiry as I do to my answer.

Obviously, this isn’t a solution for everyone. Many firms need as much contact with their customers as possible. Whatever your scenario, find a method to create your own barrier to your inbox so you receive more of the emails you want and need and less of the chaff.

Pick up the phone, utilize Skype, or go face-to-face with the individual. Pick up the phone, utilize Skype, or go face-to-face if an email discussion seems to be going beyond four back-and-forth emails. It’s sometimes just more effective to spend 5 to 10 minutes talking about what you need rather than emailing the same topic all day.

How to Quickly and Efficiently Process Email

So you’ve cut down on the quantity of emails you get. That’s a good place to start. Now we need a way to handle the emails that have been left in our inbox. Here are some ideas for you.

On your PC and phone, turn off email notifications. Turn off all email alerts on your computer and phone to eliminate the time-sucking habit of continuously checking your email. Those infrequent “pings” are just Pavlovian training, teaching you to check your email constantly. Furthermore, email messages divert our attention away from our task. Multi-tasking isn’t built into our brains. We may believe we’ll only read that newest email for a minute, but studies show it takes an average of 25 minutes to go back to your original task after you’ve gone down the rabbit hole.

 

Set aside time to reply to mails at regular intervals. Set up definite times each day to check and reply to email, such as a 30-minute session in the morning and at the end of the day, instead of checking your email as alerts come in. When you’re completely focused on the work, you’ll be shocked at how much email you can digest and respond to.

Consider responding to emails in “offline” mode to make your email interactions even more effective. Responding to emails offline prevents you from being engrossed in a game of “email tennis,” in which someone replies to your message almost instantly.

“What if I receive an essential email that requires a response ASAP?” is a popular argument against just checking and replying to emails a few times a day. If it’s really that critical, the person attempting to contact you will do so in a different manner, such as phoning you on the phone. The fact is that most email messages aren’t urgent and can wait a few hours for a response. The immediacy of email makes us feel as though everything we say is vital, even if it isn’t.

Here are a few more pointers to keep in mind when deciding whether to respond to emails:

  • Make it a practice to not check your email first thing in the morning. Instead, invest that time on a habit that will help you succeed on a daily and long-term basis.
  • When you start your morning email review, transfer any emails that don’t need an instant response to a dedicated folder (see below) and respond to them later in the day. You only have a certain amount of willpower each day, so don’t spend time composing email answers before getting down to business.
  • After hours, don’t reply to business emails. You don’t want customers or coworkers to think you’re accessible 24 hours a day, seven days a week. If you don’t set limits, you’ll never leave your inbox. Feel free to draft your responses in offline mode late at night, but don’t email them until the following morning. Of course, if you’re moonlighting in addition to your normal day job, non-work hours are probably your only choice.

Response, deletion, filing, and archiving are all options. Scrutinize your mailbox rapidly throughout your email sessions. You’ll do one of four options with each email: answer, delete, file, or archive. The idea is to empty your inbox entirely.

Respond: If it will take less than two minutes to respond to an email, respond and move on. Delegating it to a more suitable party or an assistant is one option. If the email doesn’t demand a response but includes a task — such as bringing refreshments to your child’s next soccer game — add the task to your to-do list and file the email away.

Delete: Use the delete key sparingly. Matt Gemmell’s approach to email processing is one I admire:

 

“You don’t have to think about the value of an email for very long. If it doesn’t make you feel compelled to respond within the following day or two, it’s probably not that essential to you. It should be archived or deleted.

If it’s essential enough to someone else, they’ll go out of their way to get it back to you. You would have wasted your time responding to the email if it did not respond. Win-win.”

Delete if you’re unsure. Don’t feel bad about it.

File: If an email will take a long time to respond to and isn’t urgent, put it in a “To Answer” folder. Each day, devote your final email-checking session to dealing with emails in this folder.

Archive emails that are just for informational reasons and do not demand a response or action. You may always use the search option in your email to locate that information if you need it.

The five-sentence rule should be followed. Keep your answers to a minimum. It saves both you and your receiver time. When sending emails, Guy Kawasaki suggests following the “five sentence rule.” According to him, “proper email is a combination of civility and succinctness.” “More than five sentences wastes time; less than five phrases is sometimes abrupt and impolite.”

Use pre-written replies. Consider developing a prefabricated response if you often get emails that need the same kind of response. Your message will be filled up and sent with only one click. You may find out how to construct a canned answer for your email client by doing a fast Google search.

Make use of text expansion tools. Consider obtaining a text expander if you’re using prepared replies. You may set specified keystrokes to complete words and phrases using text expander tools. The text expander will write out the whole word or phrase whenever you enter that keystroke. Typing out whole sentences is for dummies.

For the numerous operating systems out there, here are several text expander programs:

  • PhraseExpress is a service that allows you to search for words (Windows 7)
  • Message sender (All other versions of Windows)
  • TextExpander (Mac)
  • AutoKey (Linux)
  • AutoHotKey (Windows/Mac/Linux)

Take advantage of vacation responses. Use a vacation responder to limit the quantity of email that clogs up your inbox while you’re on vacation. That way, people won’t keep contacting you because they assume you’re still around but don’t answer.

Make use of an email processing program. If you’re still having difficulties digesting your emails, try utilizing a web app to assist you. Here are a handful to have a look at.

Gmail Priority Inbox. Give Gmail’s Priority Inbox a try if you’re a Gmail user. When you enable it, Gmail begins tracking how you respond to and process your emails. Gmail will begin automatically categorizing your email for you based on your inbox activity, placing essential emails at the top and less important emails towards the bottom. Priority Inbox takes a time to start working its magic, so be patient at first.

 

Sanebox. Sanebox is similar to Priority Inbox in that it works with a variety of email clients. Sanebox provides a variety of handy features, like one-click unsubscribe and follow-up reminders, in addition to filtering and categorizing your email for you. Sanebox has a monthly fee of $5.79.

Mailstorm. Mailstrom could be right for you if you have a large backlog of emails (thousands). When you connect your Gmail account to Mailstrom, you’ll be able to organize all of your emails in ways that you wouldn’t think of using Gmail’s default inbox. Get rid of the non-essential emails as soon as possible and concentrate only on the crucial ones.

 

This is true for all of these strategies as well. Try them out to find what works best for you, and don’t be afraid to try new things. A man’s most valuable possession is his time. Don’t allow the email monster eat your kingdom and take control of your life; defeat it and claim the throne of productivity and peace of mind!

What are your tricks for conquering the email monster? Do you have any that we didn’t mention? Please share them in the comments!

Ted Slampyak created the illustration.

 

 

Email is a necessary tool for many people. However, it can be overwhelming and difficult to keep up with. Here are some strategies that you can use to avoid email overload and increase your productivity. Reference: what strategies can you use to avoid email overload and, as a result, increase your productivity?.

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