Do you ever get that feeling that you spend most of your life buried in your inbox?
Then, finally, that moment comes.
You reach inbox zero. You breathe a sigh of relief. Maybe even throw your fist into the air.
Then you return to your computer, only for the seemingly endless cycle of email management to start once more.
Ready for some good news?
There are a bunch of effective tips you can use to claim your time back from the void of email management.
So, let’s get right to it, shall we?
How to manage your emails more effectively
#1 – Use a single ‘master’ email account
This is my favorite tip on the list:
Email management is easier if you have a ‘master’ email account.
This will be the email account that you use for important communication – it’ll be the one that you check most often.
You may want to allocate a separate email account for less important emails that could negatively impact your productivity.
I prefer to use Gmail for this over self-hosted emails because it’s extremely reliable. And they have iOS and Android apps that make managing emails on the go far quicker. I’m a big fan of the ‘swipe to archive’ feature.
The reason I like Gmail for this is that you can manage additional email accounts from one single account (this help page explains how).
I have several email addresses for different blogs that I manage – I’m able to check all of these emails from my main Gmail account. And I can then choose to send email from any of those addresses from within Gmail if I need to.
#2 – Decide on a routine for email management
The first few hours of your day are typically the most productive.
Those hours are precious, and we should never waste them on managing emails.
Replying to emails first thing sets the day rolling with a focus on the agenda of others – not yours.
By all means, if you have some task you need to do, and you’re waiting on someone else before you can do it – drop them an email. Then carry on with whatever other tasks you need to do.
Leave email management to the afternoon and give yourself a strict time limit.
Have you ever heard of the phrase ‘work expands’?
If you don’t put a time limit on a task, it’ll take far longer to complete.
This is why I prefer to give myself no longer than an hour to manage emails. Without that time limit in place, I’d take twice as long.
Here’s a quick note about finding what works for you:
1 hour is just an example that works for me – your schedule will likely need to be different.
It depends on the volume of important emails you need to manage, and exactly how critical it is that you reply to them. You may find 1 hour 30 minutes more feasible or even 1 hour every other day.
And if you only have a few quick emails to get through, it makes sense to get them over and done with in the morning.
The key here is to find what works for you.
#3 – Don’t put off till later, what you can do now
Have you ever opened an email, only to read it and think “I’ll leave that till later” and set it to unread?
You’ll only have to re-open the email another day, read it again and respond.
This is a bad habit I got into and it was difficult to get out of. Eventually, managing emails felt like 5x more work than it needed to be.
So, don’t put off till later, what you can do today. When tomorrow comes, and you’ve got fewer emails to manage, you’ll be so glad you replied there and then.
#4 – Reply faster
Did you know that decision fatigue is a thing?
Not only is it a thing, but I’ve noticed that the longer I take to make a decision, the more tired I am because of it.
Unfortunately, a big part of email management relies on deciding how to reply. Think too hard about it and you’ll ruin your flow – then productivity will nosedive.
The solution is simple – make decisions faster, and reply to emails faster.
#5 – Turn off mobile notifications
We talked earlier about the importance of managing emails later in the day, and in limited time-blocks.
If you have an email client on your phone – disable the notifications unless it’s absolutely necessary (e.g. if you have customer support emails to reply to).
I prefer to disable almost all mobile phone notifications – or leave my phone in a different room while I work. This ensures I can keep my mental energy on the task at hand.
#6 – Banish cleverly written spam emails
Sounds obvious right?
I don’t necessarily mean emails that are obviously spam. What can be a huge time drain is the ones that aren’t obvious.
It might be a guest post pitch, or a pitch for services or a request to promote someone’s product. The email is usually well written and appears to be written for you, but in most cases 200+ people get the exact same email.
Some of these emails come from real people and others come from marketing personas. In any case, the result is the same – you’re wasting time.
Now, exactly which ones are a waste of time depend on you.
I could tell you to ignore press releases, product launches, and book launches.
Those may be ideal for some people to ignore, but they might not be a good fit for everyone to ignore.
For example, I get a bunch of advertising requests via one of my sites. On that site, I’d never accept any advertising requests, but I’m often able to flip those opportunities over to one of my other sites that is a good fit.
Identify which types of emails are important to you, and your business – then bin the rest.
#7 – Be more concise with your emails
A simple way to be more productive with your emails is to write fewer words.
Write only what needs to be said.
#8 – Utilize folders and categories
If you haven’t already, take some time to setup some folders to keep your emails organized.
This means you can keep resolved emails out of your inbox. It also makes it easier to find any important emails you might need later.
#9 – Setup quick reply templates
Do you ever find yourself saying the same things in emails?
If so, you can speed up your replies by creating templates.
Gmail has a feature called ‘Canned Responses’ that allows you to do this easily – but it needs to be activated by visiting Settings -> Advanced -> Templates.
Alternatively, you could use a notepad document to save your quick replies.
#10 – Hit the unsubscribe button
Are you subscribed to newsletters that you don’t read anymore?
Hit the unsubscribe button, or leverage the ‘promotions’ tab in Gmail.
#11 – Hit pause on your inbox (really!)
Sometimes you just need a break from emails.
If you use Gmail, you can use the ‘Inbox Pause’ tool to literally hit pause on your inbox.
Then, when you are ready you can click the unpause button and the emails you were sent during that time will be delivered.
Shout out to Jason Quey for letting me know about this tool.
#12 – Hire someone else to do it for you
Your time is best spent on top level business tasks – not replying to low priority emails.
If you have the budget you could hire a VA to help you out.
There are sites like Upwork and Freelancer you could use to find a VA, but I’d recommend asking your network for referrals instead.
Over to you
If you want to start claiming your time back from your inbox, these tips are a good place to start.
But it’s important to remember that everyone is different. There are different productivity styles, and some of these tips may work amazing for you – while some might not be a great fit.
For example – I run on what’s called the ‘maker’s schedule.’
That means that I prefer to work in long stretches, and without interruptions. When I am interrupted, it takes me longer to get back into the task I was doing than someone on the ‘manager’s schedule,’ for example.
Read more about Makers vs Managers over on Paul Graham’s blog. It was written a while ago but explains the differences very well.
Here’s the bottom line:
Find what works for you – pick out one of the above tips and try it out to see how it impacts your productivity.