Remember when hearing the words, “Welcome – you’ve got mail!” was the best part of your day? Back in the ‘90’s, we were so delighted to “get mail” that we’d wait patiently as our desktop computers whirred through their arduous dial-up process to eventually land us online. We would eagerly read our few emails from classmates and pen pals, and cross our fingers that forwarding that chain letter really would guarantee a kiss from our crush.
Fast forward to 2019, email is no longer a diversion – it’s a task we dedicate more than 5 hours to every.single.day. The overload on email has been found to increase stress, and it is easy to see why. Emails represent a potential pull on our time and energy, a daunting demand looming behind every subject line. Even while many missives are innocuous or even exciting, inbox anxiety builds as the messages pile up.
Fortunately, there are strategies we can take towards effective email management – pick the ideas that work for you, and you may find that checking your mail becomes as fun as when you used to wonder what @NY152 would have to say.
Declare an email schedule
Set realistic boundaries for when to check email throughout the day, and make this schedule known with your coworkers, friends and family. It is essential that the schedule works for both you and the people around you. While job constraints may expect you to be “on” for most of the day, there are likely still times that you might turn your email off for a breather, such as during lunch or for designated “project time” each afternoon.
Outside of work hours, work with your manager to establish a cutoff time with work email – for example, you may check your email once after work, but after 7:00, your phone is down for the night. Vynamic, a healthcare industry management consulting firm, does this by instituting a company-wide zzzMail policy, which encourages employees NOT to send emails between 10 pm and 6 am, on weekends, and on holidays.
Deal with 95 percent of your emails on first glance
We may not all achieve “inbox zero,” but we can all strive for “inbox almost zero.” Mobile email apps make it easy to swipe left on individual emails to either archive or delete. Instead of letting emails sit stagnant, scan and address the majority of your emails on a single read through. This allows for a quick declutter of emails we don’t ever need to read but yet sit unopened, in email purgatory, forever – meeting acceptances, sales emails, etc. Taking care of emails on first glance means we don’t waste time reading and re-reading subject lines to confirm that nothing requires our attention.
Additionally, for at least 95 percent of the emails that you DO read, pledge either to respond or decide that you will never respond immediately after reading. For the few emails that require more thought before addressing, add a response to your to do list to ensure it gets done – and doesn’t haunt you.
Turn off notifications
Own your inbox – don’t let it own you. Unless you’re waiting for a mega-important, can’t-miss email to cross your desk, you don’t need notifications pinging you all day. Instead of responding to those looming, little, red numbers, rely on your email schedule to tell you when to check your email. This is a great habit to get into with social media, news and other mobile apps as well; you’ll love how liberated you feel when you unlock your phone and get to choose your own adventure versus being pushed in one direction.
Set up automatic filters and rules
There are handy tricks in Outlook and Gmail that can help keep that inbox organized. Not every email needs to come to your inbox folder! Consider setting filters that automatically route some emails to specific folders. For example, if you love subscribing to newsletters but never read them immediately, consider having your email auto-route these types of emails to a designated folder that you can peruse at your leisure.
This is also a great trick to use for shopping emails. It’s nice to have that receipt from Amazon on file, but you don’t really need to read it unless there is an issue. If you autoroute it to its own folder, that’s one less email to check off your list. You can also set up rules so that emails from certain senders stay in your inbox but get tagged so that you can sort and organize your emails more easily.
Cut the clutter
It’s time to Konmari that inbox and unsubscribe to emails that don’t bring you joy. There are two ways to tackle this beast: either set aside time to do a serious scrub of your subscriptions, or get in the habit of unsubscribing as your daily emails flow in.
Looking for a way to cut back but not completely cut yourself off? Free services like unroll.me help you review, unsubscribe, and consolidate your subscription emails.
Inspired for more digital decluttering? Check out our five day plan to get back on track.