There are two types of people in this world: those who have zero unread messages in their inbox, and those to have 23,751 unread e-mails.
I’m the first type.
Also, the second type of people… please explain yourself!
I can’t stand to see that little red notification bubble. It drives me crazy! I also think I suffer from a mild version of OCD. So this could explain everything.
Inboxes can take over our lives so easily. We don’t even notice it. I remember when I was just starting out as a digital marketer, I was crazy checking my work e-mail constantly: at home, while commuting, at bathroom, during grocery shopping and so on. It was terrible!
So throughout my love/hate relationship with my inbox, I came across some really nice ways to keep my inbox close to zero and not sacrificing my free time for it.
Clean your Inbox
This is obvious, but worth mentioning.
Go thought your newsletter folder and check with newsletters you’re still interested in. Unsubscribe from those who are not relevant anymore.
Also, if we’re still here… now would be a good time to create a filtered folder for your newsletters. Keep them in one place, so the notifications won’t distract you. In this way, you can check your newsletter folder in one of your e-mail-reading time frames (more about it below).
If it’s Not in the Inbox, it Doesn’t Count
This will be sneaky, but we’re talking about 0 inbox here, so if it’s not in the Inbox folder, it’s technically 0. Right? There are a few small things you can do to redirect certain e-mails (or all) so they won’t land in your inbox but in specific folders.
Gmail already has some sort of functionality for this: it automatically adds things like e-mail notifications or newsletters to its built-in folders. But you can create your own as well.
So basically, this means to organise your inbox as well as you can, so you have a minimal number of ‘uncategorised’ e-mails in your inbox that you’ll have to go through.
Rules are most frequent in Outlook. I don’t think there’s another provider that offers this option individually (they are a mix from other providers).
You can set Outlook to filter certain e-mails. Rules (or filters) work based on e-mail size, who’s it from, subject line and you can also include or exclude certain words.
For example, you can create a rule to add all the e-mails from your boss in a folder called “Highly Important” or something like that. Similarly, you can add the e-mails from less important senders to a low importance folder, that you won’t have to check it that often.
Folders are very similar to rules. Actually, they are Gmail’s alternative to Outlook’s rules.
Similar to Outlook rules, you can send certain e-mails to specific folders. For example, I created a folder for each client I’m working with, and when I get an e-mail from them, it will go straight to the specific folder.
You can do something similar for personal and work e-mails if you use the same e-mail address for both, as I do for my freelance work.
You can manually move e-mails in different folders by dragging and dropping them, or you can use different rules or filters to automate some of the processes.
Quick note: the filters work for send e-mail too. In this way, you’ll have the entire conversation in one folder. Note that you have to set a separate filter to capture sent e-mails as well.
Pretty much all e-mail service providers offer the option to merge inboxes from other service providers.
What this basically means, is that you can have multiple e-mails, but manage them from a single place. In my case, for example, I have a Gmail and an Outlook account. I’ve set my Outlook e-mail to forward all my e-mails to my Gmail account. This means I get all e-mails in one single place, so they’re easier to manage and filter and I can also create e-mails and reply with my Outlook e-mail from my Gmail.
This setting is called Forwarding, POP and IMAP and it does just what I described above. You can find it under Settings – Forwarding and POP/IMAP in Gmail. Note that you’ll also have to make some changes on the other service provider, in order for them to match and forward your e-mails to your Gmail.
You can have this setting enabled in other service providers, but I enjoy working in Gmail and it’s my go-to platform. Just search for the POP/IMAP setting for your e-mail platform and follow the steps they indicate.
Use an all-in-one App
Similar to what you have on your iPhone, you can also have a similar app on your laptop.
On a Windows laptop, they have the default Mail app. They did some updates on it and it works pretty well now. I recommend to give it a try if you’re using Windows.
An all-in-one e-mailing app can help you keep all your e-mail addresses in one place and manage them individually, without having to use the POP/IMAP option. If you want to still keep your inboxes somehow separated, an app like this might be the solution.
If you don’t like using the built-in app your OS is providing and you want some nice extra features, give Newton Mail a try. It works for both Windows and Mac OS.
Check Your Inbox during Certain Time Frames
I first came across this concept in Tim Ferris’ book The Four Hour Workweek.
What he recommends is to set certain time frames throughout your working day when to check your e-mails. For the rest of the day, you should set an automated message that will inform people that you check your e-mails from 2 pm to 4 pm each day and they should expect an answer from you around that time.
While I think the automated message is a little bit extreme, I truly believe setting time frames for e-mail checking is a golden rule.
I often get distracted when I see the e-mail notification and I have to read it right away, even if I know it’s not important. This stupid habit of mine usually creates disruptions in my work process.
Related: Simple Ways to Improve Productivity
Set two or three-time frames of one hour each. You can set a reminder for this until you get the hang of it. Turn off your notifications or even close the e-mail app. When the time comes, read your e-mail and answer to those which need an answer from you.
How’s Your Inbox?
There are for sure other ways to optimise your inbox and to keep it under control, but I haven’t discovered them yet. If you have other ways to keep your inbox always on zero, please share them with me, I would love to learn new tips!
Meanwhile, please remember these things when you try to manage your e-mails:
- (almost) nothing is truly urgent – while this is debatable for some professions unless you are the CEO of a company and the company will lose shit tons of money if you’re not on your phone 24/7, there’s nothing truly urgent unless you make it urgent
- take away what works for you – maybe you tried some of these tips and maybe some are totally new. Take what you think would work best for your lifestyle, profession and expectations
- it’s your time – at the end of the day, it’s up to you how much of your free time you want to spend working, but remember that your boss might not even truly appreciate or notice it
Do you have any favourite tips to keep your inbox clean? Please share them with me in the comments, I would love to learn some new tricks!