My inbox is as uncluttered as my kitchen counters, but it takes more effort to keep it that way! You might think I am going to recommend complicated tags and categories, but really I think keeping it simple is the best way to tackle email flow. Over the years I have created several hacks to help me manage the hundreds of emails that I get every day. Here are some of the basic ways I stay on top of emails so that when I go to bed at night my inbox looks like this:
*not a dramatization. a real life inbox was used in this demonstration!
Keep it empty
Your inbox is just that – an inbox. It’s not a storage vault. Don’t keep 1,000 read emails in your inbox. You need to be able to see what’s important and tackle it. If you’re saving tons of emails with things like future flight info or an address you will need in the future, you need to move that information to another space to store. Consider using the notepad on your computer or your Google Calendar to make the information pop up on the date you will need it.
Keep it simple.
Tags and categories only make it complicated and harder to find the things you need to respond to. I really have only two categories of emails: things I can respond to right now and things I need to address later. Any information I need to save I move to another area of my computer, as mentioned above, like notepad or my calendar.
Reduce before you organize. It’s a tip that organizers across the globe are following, whether you’re talking about your kitchen drawers or your closet. If you want a neater inbox, reduce the number of emails you get. I unsubscribe from something nearly everyday. It is always annoying to click through, but I know the reward for each click is one less email tomorrow. If I need to know about a Pottery Barn sale, I’ll go to PotteryBarn.com. I don’t need an email to pester me.
When you’re out and about and check emails on your phone, you need a way to quickly sort through your emails. I either quickly respond (if it makes sense to do so on my phone), delete/archive because I have absorbed the information and decided it’s not important, or snooze for later by flagging and then archiving the email. It leaves my phone inbox and I am ready to receive and sort the next batch in a few hours. When I get back to my computer, I have all of the flagged emails waiting for me in a separate area called “Flagged” using the Gmail multiple inboxes feature. That’s the only category I use. (Learn more about multiple inboxes in this video I made years ago! Man, my inbox used to be so…colorful!)
Check in a few times a day to minimize responding time.
And finally, I rarely go to bed with emails in my inbox or even in my flagged area. To be honest, they just bother me too much! It’s like leaving dishes in the sink. Blame that on my type A personality. Unless I receive something late at night and know it needs some focused attention in the morning, I generally deal with everything over the course of the day. If I’m away from my desk all day long then that is usually not possible, but on a normal day it is. Also consider this: if an email is going to take you a really long time to respond to, why not just make a phone call instead? You’ll save yourself the typing time and you’ll be able to multitask, perhaps by calling the person on your walk home or while emptying the dishwasher (I realize this doesn’t work for all professional jobs, but it does in the context of my life).
So there you have it – a clutter free email system. I’m curious to know if any of you use similar techniques?