5 Steps to Clear Your Inbox When You’re Drowning In Emails


5 Steps to Clear Your Inbox When You’re Drowning In Emails

Who remembers the lovely, calm, pressure-free days before email? It all started to get serious almost a quarter of a century ago now (so I might be showing my age a tad). The World Wide Web opened to the public almost 25 years ago, making inter-company and direct consumer email communication a new reality (rather than just internal, via a local software).

What seemed simply an effective tool to communicate with colleagues internally when I was working in a big investment bank in London in the early 90’s soon started to really get me and about 8.5 million other peeps seriously excited: Hotmail launched in 1996. Then Gmail followed in 2004. And the rest, as they say, is history.

Today, we cannot quite imagine a life without the quick, convenient communication that email provides. But yet, we often desperately wish for a life without it.

It’s easy to see why we are getting stressed by the thought of email: inboxes are overflowing, spam and virus-laden messages taunt and haunt us, and we never ever seem to get on top of things. Those little buggers keep multiplying like rabbits!

In 2015, if you are in business, you sent / received 112.5 email per day on average – and that’s about to get worse, sorry.  For 2019 the prediction is close to 130 emails popping into your inbox to drive you bonkers. And don’t forget your personal emails: you can look forward to sending/ receiving about 90-100 emails a day in 2016.

Scared? Hyper-ventilating? Me, too.

Fear not, there’s hope; seriously. If you prefer to conquer the email deluge rather than sink in the vast ocean of messages, follow my road-tested tips and you will feel the burden of email dissipate in no time at all.

Disclaimer: this takes practice and commitment. You will have bad days; you will have good days. What matters is: you know you can be in control rather than slave to your inbox. So go off, log on, and try it.

1. Unsubscribe

It’s time to say no. How many newsletters and alerts do you get that you never, ever read? They are time-suckers that distract you from doing real work (or go and play). Unsubscribe, be ruthless. I search my ‘all mail’ inbox for the word ‘unsubscribe’ in the body copy regularly and review what I want to keep and what can safely go. Other stuff I don’t want to get complexly rid of I mark to go to ‘spam’ – ad I know where I can find it for the next 30 days, if need be.

2. File / Delete

We all tend to keep our inbox as a to do list. I’m not trying to tell you that’s wrong. But make it easier on yourself. File what can go – or delete it. Only keep important stuff in your inbox. If you are keeping an email as a reminder to contact a client or supplier and you have a workflow program, schedule reminders for what’s in the email there instead. And utilize handy tools like Boomerang for Gmail for messages to go “poof!” for now – to reappear in your inbox when you actually need them.

3. Categorize

Break down the mountain into molehills. I have created categories of clients / projects, suppliers, networking, business development, etc. to mark (flag / star, depending on your email provider) incoming emails first thing by just reading the subject line and / or sender’s name. Don’t read the whole message (it’s doubling up; we don’t like doubling up). Allocate time when you attack your different groups of email in batches. Similar emails require similar responses and thinking, so you will not jump around and be far more effective now. And it feels so good to see an empty category after!

4. Go Yesterbox

I’ve started to experiment with Zappo’s inspiring and eccentric CEO Tony Hsieh’s Yesterbox concept. While he has not solved the email flood problem (sorry if you got excited), he has re-introduced sanity to it with his concept (ah, sanity…). Here’s the simple, yet effective idea: today, only deal with yesterday’s emails (unless it is urgent). Why? Because what you received in the past is done, is finite. Boom! No rabbit-like multiplying of incoming emails any more. You’re done with email when you’re done with yesterday’s list. The list cannot get any bigger. Can you already feel that sense of completion-satisfaction? … On a side note: you can even apply this to tasks; check out productivity coach Mark Foster’s Do It Tomorrow.

5. Apps + Tools – Apply With Caution

There are roughly a gazillion apps and tools out there that proclaim they can help you get out of email overwhelm. I have found that the majority create more work or distraction for me, so to me they were generally not worth using. I do love Boomerang, though, and am experimenting with Pocket.

But we are all different, work differently and use different email providers.

So what tools, apps and tricks have worked for you? Share away in the comments – the geek in me loves to try out a new shiny gizmo (after I got through yesterdays’ emails).

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Showing 4 comments
  • Georgia Thomas

    A very helpful article, Daniela. Thank you.

    • Daniela Cavalletti

      Cheers, Georgia, I’m glad you found some interesting info in the article. I got my inbox down to zero that way. It has grown a bit bigger again, but it will get it down to nil again in a few days. It feels so good!! 🙂

  • Beverley

    Great tips! Thanks Daniela Cavalletti … Love the idea of doing yesterday’s emails today as it is finite!

    • Daniela Cavalletti

      Hi Beverley; that really appealed to me as well – no more mountains, only cute little molehills to deal with! 🙂

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