How I Avoid Email Overload
There are plenty of applications and shortcuts to manage your email inbox, but sometimes I find more bells and whistles = more complication. Managing your email inbox can be simple. Today I’m going to show you what works for me (video tour included!). My goal is to help solo business owners avoid email overload by teaching you how to clean up your currently cluttered inbox. Then I’m going to show you how to keep it tidy with a few simple, unfancy steps you’ll repeat every single day.
Here’s why your inbox is currently a mess (because if you don’t know what’s wrong, you can’t actually fix the situation):
You avoid making decisions about what to keep and what to delete because you’re scared you’ll lose something important.
You take a lot of time writing lengthy, complicated email responses.
You’re subscribed to a bunch of stuff you don’t actually want or need.
You don’t have a system in place for things like: sending responses, filing emails you want to keep, and the daily tidy.
You’re not prioritizing your values.
Don’t worry. These things are totally fixable. I’ll show you how in a minute but first...
If you need to clean sweep a super cluttered email inbox, here are the steps you’ll take:
1 // Set aside time and take care of emails requiring a response.
You’ll do this by scanning down the first few pages of your inbox and finding those important emails. Click the star icon beside those emails so they stand out. One by one, knock those responses out.
2 // Create some folders to organize all the emails you need to save.
Again, you’ll scan the first few pages of your crowded inbox and look for savable emails. When you find one, create a folder for it. If you’re not sure how to create a folder or manage your folders, I’ll show you how in the video below so stay with me.
3 // Do a search to find similar, savable emails.
Once you have folders set up for the important emails on the first three pages of your inbox, you’ll simply do a search to find more emails like these. For example, if you want to save important emails from a client, you’ll do a search (using the search bar at the top of the page). When you find those emails, you can mass file them if you want. Only keep emails you may need to reference in the future. Get rid of everything else.
4 // PURGE. And be ruthless.
After you’ve responded and filed important emails from your first few pages, I want you take a deep breath and PURGE like your well being depends on it—because it does. Clutter is heavy and suffocating. Even the digital kind. If you accidentally delete something, you can always retrieve it by searching in your TRASH folder. And if you fail to respond to something because it was a few pages deep and you deleted it, that person will follow up with you if it truly matters. I know purging the excess seems scary. Feel the fear and do it anyway. A sense of lightness and freedom will be your reward.
At this point you should have a clean slate. Well done!
Now...you need to take some simple steps to manage your inbox every day.
1 // Become a decision-maker.
All clutter is really a big collection of delayed decisions. When it comes to your email I want you to stop waffling and start making decisions.
Every morning my inbox is full. It’s decision time.
The first thing I do is go down the list of new emails and begin pulling weeds. In other words, I delete anything that doesn’t require a response or appear useful. I don’t full-on read these emails. I scan subject lines. Or I quickly open the email and glance at it to get the gist of things.
After deleting the obvious junk, I go back through and look for the newsletters. I quickly read the ones I like. Or if I don’t have time for that, I’ll STAR them so I can read them later (you can watch me do this in the video below).
Then I’ll look at the emails needing responses. The ones that can be responded to in under two minutes are tackled quickly. The ones that need a bit of thought or research are added to my day’s task list.
At the end of the day, before I close my work down, I’ll tend to any unanswered responses, glance at the starred emails and deal with them (or delete them if they now seem unimportant), and file any correspondence from clients (I like to save my client correspondence. It’s my digital “paper trail”). My goal is an empty inbox. However, if I need to save an email until the next day, I do. I’d rather let an email simmer thoughtfully than respond hastily (especially if it’s an email that triggered me emotionally).
I try to tend to my email inbox in 10-minute sessions three times a day. Once in the morning. Once in the middle of the day. And once before I close up shop at 5:00.
2 // Write brief responses.
This is a practice that takes time to learn, but push yourself to do it. Keep your email responses concise. The person on the other end will thank you.
Even though your responses will be short, don’t be sloppy. Read your email out loud to yourself before hitting send so you can catch any grammar hiccups or typos. I use a tool called Grammarly for this. I highly recommend it.
3 // Subscribe and unsubscribe with intention.
You may have noticed I don’t use the Gmail tabs (Primary, Social, Promotions, etc.). This is because I don’t subscribe to social media updates and I have another plan for newsletter subscriptions.
To keep from drowning in newsletters I use a tool called Unroll.me. It saves my subscriptions in one place—in my roll-up. What I love about this free tool is it puts me in control. Meaning, I can look through my rolled-up subscriptions if and when I want to rather than experience a subscription avalanche every day.
There are some subscriptions I don’t roll up because I love them and look forward to their arrival in my inbox.
When a subscription doesn’t feel like a good fit anymore, I take the steps to unsubscribe either in my inbox or unroll.me.
I’m also very discerning about what I sign up for. I consciously say no to lots of info and media—whether it’s TV, social, or online because it’s just too easy to lose my true North in this crazy, loud world. I’m not afraid of missing out. One of my personal mantras is “I am always being guided to what is right for me. I completely trust that.” Trusting that means, quieting down the world so I can be aware of the clues along my path. I seek information when I need it rather than have it hunt me down incessantly.
4 // Use a filing system...religiously.
I have a fairly simple file structure and move things out of my main inbox, into folders to keep everything clean and tidy (watch the video below to see my files in action).
My four main folder categories are: MONEY, WORK, CLASSES & FAMILY.
Within those categories I have subfolders for things like my financial institutions, clients, class logins, kids school stuff, etc.)
When it comes to finding old emails I need to reference, I either look through my folders or simply type into the search bar at the top of my inbox.
5 // Keep your inbox values aligned with your actual values.
If you value things in your life like simplicity, beauty, calm, ease, flow...then make your inbox a priority just like you do the foods you eat, clothes you wear, and money you spend (or don’t spend).
I know keeping on top of email can feel overwhelming. Some days—like the days I return back to the office after time off—my inbox will be a crazy mess. But I don’t use that as an excuse to let the wheels fall off the wagon. I simply make the time to scoop things out. As you develop your new email system, I encourage you to set aside time—schedule it—the same way you schedule other priorities in your life.
I hope you feel inspired to clean up your inbox and tend to it daily.
It will take a little time to get things set up. And it’ll take consistency to create some new habits. And finally, remember that you’ll need to pay attention to what works and doesn’t work for you so you can make adjustments as you go along.
Just remember...your reward for doing this is a feeling of lightness and freedom and you, my friend, deserve that!