Empty Your Inbox: 5 Email Productivity Tips for Making Your Life Easier

Photo by Torsten Dettlaff on Pexels

Too much email, not enough time. Suppose you’re a manager or a leader, or your job position includes getting your inbox cluttered with various emails day after day. In that case, I can imagine what you’re going through. I know how easily all of us can get overwhelmed with emails: constant tasks, infinite newsletters, and spams. The worst part of it — when you start drowning in your messages, you don’t know where to begin getting rid of them — what’s important, what can wait for tomorrow, and what needs to be done immediately. It’s a complete madhouse, and you’re right in the middle of it, nervous and stressed out. Depending on how many emails we get per day, we can spend days reading and replying to all of them. Desperate times call for desperate measures, and luckily, you’re in the right place. Today, I will share with you some tips and tricks on how to manage your inbox, save time, and significantly reduce your email anxiety.

Don’t keep the email tab open for too long — This is perhaps the most important thing to mention because it’s the number one mistake the majority of us make on a daily basis. We are constantly checking our inbox and having its tab open on our browser throughout the day we spend at work, next to a dozen other tabs relevant to our job obligations. Although we think this is the way to “stay in the loop,” notification alerts, incoming email beeps, and unimportant newsletters can distract us from other tasks, we’re processing and leave us out of focus. We need to establish reading-and-replying-on-emails blocks of time during our workday, and the amount of time spent on it mostly depends on the number of emails we’re getting. Some of us do it by dedicating 5 to 10 minutes of every work hour checking and replying to emails, while others prefer to check their inbox 2 to 3 times a day.

Implement the Time Management Matrix tool into your email management — Many business owners, leaders, managers, and the rest of people who get literally dozens or hundreds of emails per day use Stephen Covey’s Time Management Matrix tool to organize the time they spend on checking and replying to emails. Although this tool wasn’t meant specifically for managing your email, it is a perfect helper when it comes to achieving your “inbox zero.” This tool is based on four quadrants, and it provides a way to use them to prioritize your daily tasks by estimating their importance and urgency. The key to this tool is to help you determine which tasks need to be addressed immediately and which can be scheduled.

Stephen Covey’s Time Management Matrix
  • Important and urgent tasks are the ones which are critical to the business goals and need to be done as soon as possible
  • Important, not urgent tasks are considered as constant improvement tasks
  • Urgent, not important tasks mean various disturbances and interruption tasks
  • Not important, not urgent tasks are tasks that are not considered as crucial or dominant in any way, and you can schedule them any time

These quadrants can be easily applied to controlling your inbox, for example:

  • Important and urgent emails are the ones that need to be addressed and replied to as soon as possible since they are crucial for the project you are working on
  • Important, not urgent emails we can sort out as emails that you get from your co-workers and/or business partners, that provide information significant for the project you are working on
  • Urgent, not important emails can refer to different tasks that need to be done but don’t have to be related to the project you are working on
  • Not important, not urgent emails are newsletters concerning various activities that you might be interested in but are not essential nor urgent in any way to your job obligations

Start using email features such as labels, folders, and categories — It saves you precious time and keeps you well organized. If you’re using Gmail and haven’t tried out their labels system, this needs your full attention. I myself would be completely lost without it, and I recommend it to everybody. Say goodbye to spending too much time locating a specific email you received days or months ago. Gmail labels are tags that function as folders and can be added to any email you receive or send. Labels will help you sort out, prioritize, and file emails to make your inbox look tidy and arranged. The only difference between folders and labels is that you can add more than one label to a single email! Not only that — it keeps you organized even more by allowing you to generate sub-labels for a specific parent label! These little lifesavers are called “nested labels.” Oh, and yeah — you can add different colors to your labels so you can locate them basically effortlessly. Amazing stuff!

Do not delay replying or archiving — If you have some spare time to answer your emails and file them, don’t wait tomorrow to do so. Take action right away, by deleting or archiving emails that are not important nor urgent for you (such as various spam emails, newsletters, etc.). This will help you assess emails that need your notice. Also, reply to the critical emails as soon as you can, don’t let them pile up in your inbox and sit there for days. If you’re on vacation, create an autoresponder email message stating you’re out of the office and for how long you’ll be off work. This is not only professional and informative for your business partners and colleagues, but it will keep you safe from people sending you multiple emails regarding the same subject. Another thing worth mentioning — you don’t have to reply to every email. Half of the emails people send are sent on impulse, where replies don’t really matter. Also, replying to an email with “Thank you” or “Ok” doesn’t improve the conversation in any way. Get rid of the feeling that you need to answer every single message.

Block or unsubscribe from mass emails — If you’re a victim of sites that send you lots of newsletters and promotional emails daily, therefore burying important emails relevant to your work and life, the easiest way to get rid of them is to block or unsubscribe from these senders. If you’ve never unsubscribed or blocked a sender and don’t know how to do it, here’s a little helper — The Verge’s blog where the process is described in detail, for all webmail providers.

Email is sort of like an evidence book — everything we’re doing leaves a trace in it. We get confirmation emails that we paid our bills or receive information if we’re invited for a job interview. It changed the way we as individuals function. Not only that, it changed the way businesses function. It is a great tool for communication with consumers, and companies are using it daily to reach out and meet potential customers in the future. But when it comes to productivity, email can be our best friend or our worst enemy. More than 269 billion emails are sent every day. For that large number, we need to learn how to control our email instead of letting it control us and our time.

Tatjana Lukic, Project Assistant at Bridgewater Labs

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