9 steps to mastering your email inbox

Master your inbox

Are you one of those people with 3500 unread emails in their inbox? Does ‘Inbox Zero’ feel like a distant dream? Then this post is for you.

These are the nine very simple hacks I use every single day to ensure I seldom have more than a few emails in any of my three inboxes at any given time.

1. Create folders

I don’t really get that thing where people have just one folder in their email program (that being their inbox). Every email program allows you to create folders so it’s time to make use of this important feature!

For work stuff, you should have a folder for every client.

For yourself you should have a folder called ‘Personal’ and there should be sub-folders within that for things like Bills, Correspondence, Tax etc.

Once you have these folders, start filing stuff. It’s not necessary to ever delete an email (unless they’re spam or promotional emails) – all emails should be filed. I know a lot of people who happily rely on the search function in their email program to find things later, but this doesn’t help the fact that your inbox has 10,000 emails in it. Your inbox should not have 10,000 items in it!

2. Answer emails straight away if you can

I know all the productivity people are going to howl loudly here but this works whether you answer emails as they drop into your inbox (me) or whether you set aside blocks in your day to do so.

If an email can be answered in one minute or less, then answer it right away.

Then file that sucker.

3. Be brutal with your answers

Just because someone has sent you an essay doesn’t mean you need to answer with an essay yourself.

I’m sure people sometimes think my email replies are a little brusque but … too bad! If the email is long and I am pressed for time, I skim it and then answer each question with a one liner. This means that pretty much ALL emails can be answered in five lines or less … and thus can be answered immediately.

And then filed!

4. Access your emails on the go

I have my email synced with my iPad and my iPhone. That means I don’t have to fire up my laptop to access my email. I seem to get a lot of spammy/unsolicited-type emails overnight so one of the first things I do every morning is open my emails on my iPad and quickly delete all the crap. I then scan the rest of the emails and answer anything that can be answered in a few words.

That way, when I do get to my desk ready to start the work day, I know what’s waiting for me in my inbox and am ready to quickly dispatch the things that I can.

And then I file them (are you seeing a pattern here?!).

Being able to access your emails on the go means that when you’re on the bus or standing in line at the post office, you can kill time in a useful fashion.

5. Have a separate email address for newsletter signups

I went through a period a while back where I signed up for every free resource, every blog I liked and every email newsletter. And I’ve been trying to unsubscribe from most of those things ever since.

The thing is, once you’re on a list of any description, it’s really hard to get off it. Having a separate email for signups means all those emails are going to another inbox – one that you can be very ruthless with when it comes to doing mass deletes.

Also if you have email notifications set up on social media, unsubscribe from them now. You don’t need to be emailed every time someone mentions you on Twitter or tags you in a photo on Facebook, as both those platforms tell you who has mentioned or messaged you whenever you login to them. Which I am guessing is several times a day.

6. Have standard replies saved somewhere

Are you answering the same questions over and over again? Then have a standard replies saved somewhere that you can easily copy, paste, personalise and send. Both Outlook and Gmail have the capacity for ‘canned replies’ to be saved for easy access.

7. Combine several emails into one

Has a client sent you 10 emails all related to one action or job? Attach all 10 emails to a single email and send it to yourself. This combines the 10 emails into one. Then you can delete those 10 emails that are sitting in your inbox.

8. Get your to-do list out of your inbox

You’ve probably heard this before: your inbox is great for storing important conversations until you have the chance to respond to them, but it’s a terrible place for keeping track of to-dos. Especially since some ‘to-do’ items can hang around for months.

So how do you get your to-do list out of your inbox? Well there are many programs on the market (and I’d love to hear your favourite in the comments below) but the one I personally love the most is Kanban Flow. Terrible name but easy to use, it allows you to create ‘streams’ of to-dos (as opposed to one giant, long to-do list). It also allows you to store important job details related to that particular to-do so once the to-do is in Kanban Flow, the email related to it can easily be filed away because you no longer need to reference the information contained in it.

9. Get conversations with colleagues out of your inbox

Have you heard of Slack? All the cool kids are using it including my business and our team at Flying Solo. Instead of having conversations via email (especially those ‘keeping you in the loop’ conversations where 100 people are bcced in) our conversations with each other (individually and as a team) are now done via Slack. I reckon just this one thing has been responsible for halving the number of emails I need to process in any given day.

So there you go. Hopefully if your inbox is currently a disaster area you now feel inspired to dive right in and both get it under control … and keep it under control going forward. And promise me I’ll never hear you utter the words ‘3500 unread emails’ ever again.

A version of this article first appeared on Flying Solo and is republished here with full permission.

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