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8 Practical Tips For Managing Your Chaotic Email Inbox

When it comes to productivity, one of the easiest ways to lose your flow (and countless hours) is in your email inbox. 

Not to mention, a messy, chaotic inbox can not only be the bane of your existence, it could also be losing you potential projects and leads! 

If that sounds familiar to you, buckle up! We’re about to cover 8 tips and tricks for banishing email overwhelm for good.

1. Unsubscribe

It’s the easiest way to start to clean up the clutter, but sometimes we can associate feeling guilty with unsubscribing from things.

Do you want to know a not-so-secret?

People really don’t notice. And if they do, they know it’s not personal. 

The truth is, email is not a vanity metrics game, you really only want someone on your email list who wants to be there and hear from you, otherwise things can get marked as spam, and it can really affect the health of your email address. 

If you are no longer feeling someone’s newsletter, or you don’t care about coupons to the deli down the street – unsubscribe – and cut off the clutter at the source. 

You’re doing yourself (and the sender) a big favor!

2. Folders, folders, folders

Archiving is great if you want to save something for later. The challenge is that your archive folder turns into one big melting pot and you still have to manually search for things (and spend the extra time doing so) when you need something. 

The best thing about using folders is that you can get super micro, organizing by category and even subcategories (think Clients, and then each individual client has their own folder), making it super easy to find what you need in the future under 30 seconds.

Some of the easiest places to start include:

  • Clients
  • Projects
  • Travel
  • Online orders + receipts

…but the options are truly limitless and completely customizable to your needs! 

Look at what’s sitting in your inbox now, and if you have 2+ emails in a subject, it might be a good candidate for it’s own organized folder.

3. Filters: Inbox magic

Did you know you can set up filters to automatically drop emails into certain folders? This means you can create rules to have certain things skip your inbox altogether, and therefore spend less time each day sorting through the unread emails.

Not sure what you would use this for? Here are a few favorites: 

  • Skip seeing order and delivery confirmations in your inbox
  • File all newsletters to be batch read Sunday morning with your coffee
  • Send certain people’s email addresses to a folder for review later 

The options really are endless, and once you start creating filters, it can be pretty addicting. Just remember to actually check those filtered folders, and don’t let things pile up out of sight/out of mind. 

4. Stop using email as a to-do list

Do you often keep emails unread in your inbox for a while, to keep as a reminder to do something later or take action? Let’s be honest for a moment, how long do those emails remain unread and ignored, clogging up your inbox?

Have you also noticed that by doing this it also makes you feel a little manic, checking your to-do list, checking email reminders again, forgetting about something, rinse, repeat… 

It feels overwhelming to bounce back and forth doesn’t it? 

Not only does this prevent you from being able to clean up your inbox (hello zero-inbox satisfaction), it’s also killing your efficiency to not keep everything you want to accomplish in one central hub with the rest of your to-do’s and projects. 

Step 1, let’s eliminate the unread clutter. 

Go check what emails you have been keeping unread for a while (longer than 1 week) and figure out what needs to happen to eliminate it. And the most important part: once you get this task done archive or delete the email! 

5. Take action the first time you read a message

Do you ever read, re-read, and re-read a message in your inbox, without ever taking action? Instead, learn to flag things that require more attention and time for later, and follow the 2-minute rule for quick action items.

2 Minute Rule: If it takes less than 2 minutes, do it now. 

Need to forward a message to someone? Have to approve something and respond back? If you can get it done the first time you open the email in under 2 minutes, do it.

Not only will you get a rush of dopamine for accomplishing something, but that feeling of productivity will push you to keep working and getting the unread number down even further. 

6. Flag important messages for later

Open a message that needs a little more attention or time? Flag it as unread, and, here’s the most important part – schedule for a later time when you can work on it.

Whatever you do, don’t wait until you “have the time”. The truth is we need to make time for the things that matter, and plan ahead. Otherwise, when we see an open time available on our calendar, we just fill it. Or, worse, we fill empty space by checking our messages too often. 

Make sure to actually find a time block in your calendar and schedule this time for yourself to accomplish this task! This leads us to our next tip…

7. Schedule when to check your inbox

Have you ever been really caught up working on something and suddenly realized it’s been two hours and now you desperately need to use the bathroom, or you’re starving? This is called flow state. Your brain was able to focus so deeply on the one thing you were working on and nothing else. 

Flow state is optimal for productivity, getting things done in our day, and moving the needle forward on our goals. It’s also the time when we can get a task done in 30 minutes, that any other time of day may have taken twice as long. 

But by keeping our email open all the time, and constantly checking it every 20 minutes, we are living and working in a reactionary state, just waiting for something to come in that we can respond to so we feel productive for ‘doing’ something.

This also means our brain is not able to get into flow state and really focus on a deeper project, because we are always getting distracted and pulled in so many directions. 

A great rule of thumb – only check your inbox a few times a day. Close the tab. Set an alarm if you like, but outside that designated inbox time, let it be. Give yourself the permission and the space to work on the bigger picture.  

If you are worried about your delayed response time, consider setting your autoresponder with a friendly reminder when someone can expect to hear from you (you can also drop this into your email signature or sign off). 

8. Don’t squash your creativity 

If you’re getting ready to block out your email on your calendar, take a quick pause and ask yourself “when am I most creative?”, and then schedule your inbox for ANY other time outside this window. 

Seriously. 

Are you a morning person?

A night owl?

Whenever you are most likely to have the energy to work on bigger creative projects, don’t let yourself get sucked into the reactionary state by putting others first. 

While it’s great to put on our helper hats when we are in our inbox and messages, we want to avoid stifling our creativity (and therefore never really having the drive or energy to work on those bigger projects and goals)

This might mean checking your inbox first thing in the morning doesn’t work for you. Or perhaps sitting down in the afternoon your brain is fried and you don’t have the energy to respond to others. 

Audit your time a little the next week and notice your flows, and then work those more admin tasks in around that time, instead of right through it. 

You’ll also start to find that by scheduling certain tasks as these specific times of day, you’ll become more focused, feel less scattered, and get more done in less time. Talk about a win!

Okay now that you’ve got the skills as an inbox ninja, it’s time to show them off. Remember earlier when I mentioned dropping your office hours or response time into your email signature? Check out this totally customizable DIY email signature (and swipe file template!) to create a pro email signature of your own. 

Plus, when you download your copy you’ll join The Perk, a weekly email where I share productivity tricks, systems hacks, entrepreneurial tips, and all the CEO motivation. See you there?

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