7 Ways to Keep Your Inbox Manageable

Girl at computer

Picture this; it is 3:45 in the afternoon, and your inbox is full.  Does panic set in?  Are you worried about that email you miss from a potential client?  Are you overwhelmed by just how many emails you get in a single day?  Don’t worry, you are not alone.

We all get bogged down at times, either from work or phone calls or sometimes just plain old daily life.  And email seems to be on the bottom of most of our lists of daily priorities.  And the next thing we know, our inbox is full…of everything.  Newsletters and blogs we’ve signed up for, daily (or worse yet multiple daily) emails from store sales you signed up to receive, emails that need a response, emails that need to be archived, emails that just need to be dumped.  The list goes on and on.

I once worked for a person who felt they needed to respond to every single email.  The problem was their mailbox typically had more than 1200 unread emails!  1200!

I know you can readily acquire a great deal of handy ways to keep your inbox under control by a simple google search on the topic, but I feel some of them bear repeating.  So here are a few from the top of my list:

1 – Unsubscribe.  First and foremost, unsubscribe, unsubscribe, and unsubscribe some more.  Decide which of those newsletters and blogs you actually read, and then unsubscribe from the rest.  Did I mention unsubscribe?  These emails, and I am so guilty of this, tend to just pile up.  If you are like me, you flag them so that you can read them later.  The next thing you know, later gets even later, and you find yourself with a multitude of flagged emails.  When you finally get to them, you either can’t remember why you flagged it in the first place, or it is no longer relevant.  So pick a time and go through those built up flagged emails and start unsubscribing and then dumping them.

2 – Set aside a block of time (standard rule in every time management self-help manual) to do nothing but go through your inbox.  Experts say to pick one hour either in the morning or in the afternoon.  Start with deleting and unsubscribing (see #1).  Then decide which emails need to be answered.  Once your inbox is under control, depending on your workload, an hour should be sufficient time.  If it is more than enough time, take the rest of it to do something enjoyable.  You’ve probably earned it.

3 – Set up folders in your inbox.  Be careful that your list of folders doesn’t end up longer than the Pennsylvania Turnpike.  Just some main categories.  Whatever works for you.  Every person’s situation is different.  Set up a folder for each client (easier to archive later), or a folder for each of the subjects you deal with frequently.  Here’s the no-no on the folders:  DO NOT set up a folder called ‘read later’.  Trust me a lot of people do this.

4 – Take on a one click mindset.  For every email you open, decide if it needs to be filed, answered, unsubscribed from, deleted, or archived, and take action.  Open it, handle it, and then it should be gone from your inbox.

5 –   Set up filters.  A lot of folks find that setting up a filter works well for them.  This can be done in an email host, usually by going into the email settings.  Set your filter up so that emails from a person that you want to see, or from a certain business, or the blogs you like to read, etc. go directly into a folder that you have set up.  It keeps them out of your inbox.  But don’t forget the same rule of the one-click per email still applies.  And don’t forget to set aside a time block to devote just to this filtered folder.

6 –  Shut off your notifications.  Now that nearly everyone has a smartphone, we seem to feel that we need to be connected to everyone; always.  We are owned by our phones, constantly checking to see if we have received an email, or a text, or a comment on social media.  It is hard to even have a face to face conversation without one or both parties needing to take a glance at their phone.  Turn the notifications off, so you don’t get the constant buzz of the phone or the notification ding.  A simple setting adjustment on your phone can take this added ‘busyness’ away.  Just shut them off.  When you sit for your allotted time each day to go through your email, you will see who sent you an email and you can handle it then.

7 –  Don’t keep ‘reinventing the wheel’.  If you have certain responses to emails that you get regularly or certain emails with the same or nearly the same message every time (i.e. sending out newsletters or marketing), set them up as a signature in your email settings.  They can be ‘tweaked’ from there.  It will be a huge time saver if you have this situation, because you won’t have to re-type the same or nearly the same thing over and over.  The main email can be generated in a second.  On that same note, set up a signature with your name, contact info, photo, logo, etc. in your email settings, so that your signature block gets automatically inserted into your emails.  If your email carrier doesn’t have this automatic option, it will at least have a signature block that can be saved and inserted into any email.

I know that there are many more tips and tricks for managing your email, so this list is certainly not exhaustive.  If you have any tricks that work for you I would love to hear about them and how they help you.

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