Keeping on top of emails is one of the biggest day-to-day challenges modern professionals face. A recent study has shown that the typical American worker receives an average of 120 emails every day – that’s a lot of messages to read, store, reply to, or delete.
But reaching Inbox Zero is an elusive task. It’s a never-ending job that, truly, never gets done. That said, there are some strategies you can adopt to keep your inbox clutter to a minimum and save you some stress each time you log in to your email account.
1. Identify time slots and set aside time
Probably the most daunting point in this whole process is when you have a very cluttered inbox, but no time in which to sort it out.
This is where you need to make time. Even if it’s just ten minutes at the beginning of each day, you need to start allocating slots in your schedule to deal with it.
If you don’t make time, then chances are your inbox will become more and more cluttered until clearing it out seems like an insurmountable challenge.
2. Assess the damage
Once you’ve set yourself some time, take a look at your inbox to assess the extent – and, if possible, the cause – of the problem.
Perhaps you don’t have any folders set up, so every message is sitting in your main inbox. Perhaps you have a ton of spam cluttering up your account. Whatever it is, identify what is stressing you out about your inbox so you can begin to fix it.
3. Start unsubscribing
Before you do anything, spend some time on an easy task: culling the emails you don’t need.
You can start by identifying all the spam emails that have crept into your main inbox. Most email platforms, like Gmail, are pretty good at identifying spam and diverting it right to your spam folder. But for those emails that have gotten through, report them as spam and delete without opening.
To do this:
- Select the spam email.
- Click the Report spam icon at the top of the window.
- Confirm your decision by clicking Report spam & unsubscribe (recommended) or Report spam.
- Now delete the email.
Start by identifying all the newsletters to which you’re subscribed that you no longer wish to receive.
If you’re lucky, in the footer of these emails there will be a simple Unsubscribe button that will take you right off the mailing list (you may need to confirm your email address).
However, some businesses make this step more difficult, especially if they don’t need to comply with the European GDPR privacy laws.
4. Set up folders/labels
One of the perks of Gmail is that you can set up folders (called labels) to keep your messages organized.
To do this:
- Log into your Gmail account.
- Select an email you’d like to file away into a folder.
- At the top of the window, click on the Label icon.
- Click Create new.
- Name your new label and, if relevant, choose a Parent label under which to nest it. This allows you to create a hierarchical structure to your labeling system.
- Click Create
- The email you’ve selected will automatically be stored under that label.
- All your labels can be found on the left-hand side menu in your inbox.
Deciding which labels you’ll need is a subjective matter, but the most obvious labels to create are:
- Projects (e.g. fundraising project; student housing project, etc)
- Recipients (e.g. senior management; family)
- Priority (e.g. high priority; medium priority; low priority)
- Action (e.g. action required; awaiting response; delegated; archived, etc).
5. Set up rules and automations for the future
Once you’ve set up your labels, you can start attaching your existing emails to those labels.
You can also set up rules in Gmail so that specific emails are automatically assigned to certain labels.
To do this:
- Go to the Search mail field at the top of the inbox window.
- Click on the drop-down arrow on the right-hand side.
- Enter the parameters under which you want emails to be labeled (usually this is just the recipient, although it could include subject line too).
- Click Create filter.
- Check the Apply the label box and choose the label under which you’d like to send all messages of this kind.
- Click Create filter.
6. Start using an app
While Gmail allows you a good degree of control over the management of your inbox, apps like Right Inbox can fill in some of the gaps.
Right Inbox’s Reminder feature lets you attach a date and time reminder to an email to prompt you to do something with it. For example, when you first receive a message, you might not be ready to reply. With this feature, you can quickly set yourself a reminder to respond the following morning.
If you’re sending an email that’s time-sensitive, Right Inbox’s Send Later feature lets you compose the email and set the time at which you want it to be sent. This lets you keep on top of your emails without having to compromise your timing.
A lot of your time might be wasted sending the same emails over and over again. By choosing the Recurring tool, you can compose emails and select the times and regularity at which you want them to be sent out.
7. Prioritize key email threads
For those with heavy inbox traffic, often the key to reaching Inbox Zero is just a small shift in attitude. You can’t reply to everyone, so why let it overwhelm you?
Instead, identify the key people and threads you need to prioritize and label them as such. Deal with these emails before any others, and if/when you get the time to respond to less important messages, then do so.
Let’s face it, reaching “Inbox Zero” is one of those things most people never really achieve. But while it would be unrealistic to expect your inbox to stay in a consistent state of “no new mail,” these 7 strategies can help you to maintain an uncluttered and well-organized inbox.