Be honest. That little red dot on your email app – does the number inside it contain two digits? Three? Four? Oh man, my neck is tensing up just thinking of four digits worth of emails in my inbox. Please tell me that’s not you. Or actually, if it is, that’s ok. You’ve come to the right place.
If your inbox overwhelms you, I feel you. I’ve been there. I know what it’s like to feel like you spend more of your day filtering through your inbox or getting distracted by new emails than actually getting anything productive accomplished. Email is essential, but it doesn’t have to cause us anxiety and choke out the things that actually matter.
Over the last couple of years, I’ve really focused on finding ways to organize my email experience and reduce distractions. And I think I’ve gotten to a pretty darn good place with it. My inbox is simplified, my time spent reading and replying and sending is reduced, and my brain space is freed up to focus on the other important aspects of my business.
These are the 8 strategies I use to organize my emails, reduce inbox overwhelm and streamline my email experience:
1 // I create lots of folders.
The first step in reducing that inbox overwhelm is creating places for your emails to go instead of just sitting around in your inbox. Maybe that’s obvious, but based on my husband’s inbox, I realize not so much for everyone.
I’ve got lots of folders. A folder for each of my clients. A folder for every brand I work with. A folder for each company I have an account with. A folder for each trip we plan. Just lots of folders.
It doesn’t matter what folders you create and how you organize them, just find what system works for you and create a space for emails to go when you can’t delete them but you don’t need them sittin’ in your inbox.
2 // I zero’d all my inboxes.
I have four email addresses I use on a daily basis. And I had hundreds (truly, hundreds) of emails sitting in each inbox and it was causing me more anxiety than I wanted to admit. So, in January, I did the hard work and spent hours spread across a couple of chunks of completely clearing out all 4. Deleting, or storing in an appropriate folder – now the only emails that stay in each inbox are the ones I need to take action on. Once action has been taken, I file it away or archive it or delete it.
The deep scrub that happened in January was life-changing, and I work really hard to maintain that rule, but every month or two I’ll dedicate a half hour or so to do the same job. And I work to make sure when I do get emails in, I take action on them instead of letting them sit. I just can’t tell you the feeling you get when you open up your email and only see one or two or sometimes even ten emails, but each of which is important and requires acknowledgment.
3 // I use Gmail.
I’m an Apple girl all the way, and I so very rarely choose anything over apple’s own. But Google wins x1000 when it comes to email. I haven’t used the “Mail” app since I signed in and got 5000 emails in 2 seconds. I love that Gmail uses the promotions + social tab to sort for you, so you’ve already got a good 75% of your junk out of your inbox.
4 // I signed up for Unroll.me Roll up.
But Gmail doesn’t quite go all the way with the sorting, so I signed up for Unroll.me. And it’s awesome. You sign in with your email and it automatically finds every email list you’re subscribed to. It super easily allows you to choose what to unsubscribe to entirely, what to keep coming into your inbox as normal, and what to bundle into a daily “Roll Up” email, which essentially allows you to preview 30+ emails at a time but in one email in your inbox. It’s helped me clear out the clutter and then just be aware of what else I’d want to clear through.
5 // I use the Kiwi for Gmail app.
For a tiny short window last December, after I spilled water on my 5-year-old laptop’s keyboard trying to do too much on a tiny airplane tray table, I tested out the new iPad Pro instead of a laptop. And I absolutely loved it. Of course for its insanely portable convenience and touchscreen magic, but mostly because of its Gmail app. The one that you get on your phone – that has all your Gmail accounts signed in at once and allows you to see “All Inboxes” in one place or look at them each individually. I was finding email to just be so much more streamlined and enjoyable than my usual laptop or desktop experience of opening up a browser for each inbox. Turns out the iPad just isn’t quite up to replacing my laptop yet, so I went with the gorgeous new gold Macbook Air, but the short time I had with it got me hunting for a better email experience on my laptop. For some strange reason, that amazing Google app we can get on our phones and our iPads hasn’t been made for desktop yet. But I found a third-party app called Kiwi that almost does the job. It’s not perfect – there’s a tiny lag time and I can’t get that “All Inboxes” feature I loved, but in one place I can easily toggle between all 3 of my inboxes and I like that it’s separate from my internet browsing.
That was an insanely long rant to say I’ve found using an app to be a further step to simplify my email experience.
6 // I use canned responses.
This is one I’m still working to cultivate fully, but it’s already saved me so much time. Depending on your work and the emails you get, you may find yourself sending the same email all the time. (For me, it’s the “Thanks for your kind words about my content and your interest in partnering, but your product has added sugars and artificial colors and I would never promote it” one I send way too often). The nice thing about the canned response option is you can still personalize it, but it gives you a solid starting place on responses that you’ve already sent many times before.
7 // I don’t use email on my phone.
Well, I have the Gmail app on my phone, but I have all notifications turned off (even the red count button). So it’s there if I’m out and need to access an email (or if I make the choice to use a few spare minutes waiting in the car somewhere to sort through my inbox), but I’m not getting constantly bombarded with the notifications. And I very rarely check it or use it on my phone. Email is pretty strictly a sit-down-at-my-desk-to-work task for me and I like to keep it that way.
8 // I really try not to have email open all day.
This one is the hardest but also the most powerful, and I’m sure we all know it. There is nothing more distracting than working away at a task, seeing a new email swoosh through your inbox, absolutely needing to check on it, spending anywhere from 30 seconds to 10 minutes sending a response, then meandering your way back to said original task. Talk about a focus killer.
I get that not every job or work environment allows you to determine when and how you respond to emails. When I worked my office job, I felt like my email always had to be open waiting for those urgent emails from the boss. If I’m in the midst of negotiations on behalf of a real estate client, I do need to have that inbox open for speedy response times. But, with that said, I know we can all find chunks of our day to power down that email app and turn those notifications off.
I’ve made an effort in my time blocking approach to set aside two small chunks a day to check my email. I file away what’s unnecessary, I respond to what’s urgent, and I let the rest sit in my inbox and wait for the time I’ve created to actually respond to them. And for the rest of the day, I close my email app and I don’t have to deal with what’s coming in as I’m trying to focus on other tasks. True. Game. Changer.
Do you already use any of these strategies? Are you going to try one or two for yourself? Do you have strategies that you use that I didn’t mention? Share them below; I’d love to hear! Cheer’s to saying “nah” to email overwhelm and “heck to the yes” to our most focused, productive, brightest lives! xx, molls