For all its merits, your email inbox can quickly become the bane of your existence if it’s left unmanaged. It’s not hard to see how a cluttered inbox — and the anxiety of unanswered messages — can affect your productivity.
Fortunately, there are many ways to manage your inbox more efficiently. Here are some tips for improving your email management and keeping the messages in your inbox to a minimum.
1. Set aside time to read and respond to emails
It’s a good idea to schedule specific blocks of time throughout the day to check your inbox. This way you can avoid multitasking and instead focus on processing your emails more efficiently. What’s great about time blocking is it also allows you to minimize daily distractions, ensuring an uninterrupted and more concentrated workflow.
The amount of time you need to review and respond to emails will depend on how many messages you typically receive and how frequently you receive them. Some people may find it effective to dedicate 10 minutes every hour to go through their emails, while others may need to check their inboxes only two or three times a day.
2. Turn off email notifications
Despite setting aside times to check your messages, you may still be tempted to open your inbox as soon as you get a notification. Receiving email notifications can be as distracting as the emails themselves, so turn off your notifications to curb these interruptions. You may even want to close your email app or browser tab when you need to do highly focused work.
3. Squeeze in inbox cleanup during downtime
Sometimes, the messages you receive don’t require direct action. When you have spare or idle time — like when you’re waiting in line at a supermarket — you can delete spam, group important email chains, and deal with mindless email tasks to quickly clean up your inbox.
4. Set up email rules or filters
Many email providers allow you to create rules or filters that can help you quickly categorize emails, saving you the trouble of manually sorting them. For example, you can set up a rule that prioritizes emails based on the sender, or one that redirects promotional messages to a different folder. This will make it easier for you to consistently respond to messages that matter and block those that overwhelm your inbox and bury important emails.
5. Seek out important emails first
To make it easier to look for important emails, the first thing you should do is to scan your inbox for the unimportant ones. Look at the subject line and the sender to determine if an email is junk that can be immediately deleted or if it’s a message that doesn’t require immediate attention.
Dealing with irrelevant messages first makes it easier to see the remaining messages and sort the crucial ones quicker. You will then be in much better shape to start your day productively.
6. Use your calendar to track emails that require follow-ups
Some messages might require follow-up action instead of just a simple reply. It may help to move these emails to a designated folder and set a calendar reminder for when follow-up is required. What’s great is that many email providers allow you to create calendar events directly from your inbox and link or attach the email for reference with just the press of a button.
7. Create templated responses
Crafting a different reply for every email can be time-consuming. If you find yourself sending the same response repeatedly, you may benefit from keeping generic, customizable messages in your drafts or enabling templated responses.
In Gmail, this is as simple as clicking on the gear icon near your profile picture, then selecting See all settings. Go to the Advanced tab and hit enable next to Templates before scrolling down and clicking the Save Changes button. You can then create and insert templates through the More options menu — the three dots right next to the trash icon in the lower right-hand corner — when you compose a message.
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