Your inbox: You can’t live with it and you can’t live without it. It’s pretty important for you to be accessible via email — both so your boss can contact you and so you can get all the super fun updates about upcoming bachelorette parties — and yet, email can be so incredibly annoying. Whether or not you’re truly striving for inbox zero, your ever-expanding list of incoming messages haunts you in your dreams, reminding you of just how available you are and just how much you need to get accomplished at any given time. We get it — the panic is real.
Take a deep breath. In the same way that the KonMari method has been a lifesaver in the way you organize your home, it can transform the way you manage your emails. Google productivity expert Laura Mae Martin offers these 10 tips for tidying up that frustrating inbox. We hope they bring you joy… and maybe even a little closer to inbox zero.
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1. Remember that if you don’t need to see an email, it doesn’t have to hit your inbox.“Every email you see takes a tiny piece of your energy,” Martin says.”Try to make every email that gets to your inbox something you need to see.” Take control of the inbox by unsubscribing from mailing lists that seem to be stalking you or by setting up filters based on keywords that aren’t actually relevant to you.
2. Don’t touch an email more than twice. Don’t waste time by revisiting the same message over and over again. Scan the message once and figure out where it belongs (more on that below). Read it just once more after that when you’re preparing to reply. Then, say goodbye!
3. Compartmentalize email tasks. There are three primary tasks related to inbox management: sorting, reading, and answering. Instead of bouncing back and forth between these activities, Martin suggests focusing on one at a time, which will allow you to preserve more energy and brainpower. Sort everything, then read everything, then answer everything. It’s batch working at its finest.
4. Designate a folder outside of your inbox for emails that you need to answer. There are few things more anxiety-provoking than an inbox that’s a mix of read and unread messages, especially if some of those messages require your attention and others don’t. Yes, new emails should come into your inbox, but if you’ve read them and know that they need to be answered or addressed, put them in another folder or add a label.
5. Hide your inbox when you’re responding to messages. Multitasking isn’t always the best way to go. “It’s very hard to stay focused on answering your important emails when you’re constantly tempted to open the bright and shiny new emails that just came in,” Martin says. Separate your email drafting window from your incoming messages so you can focus all of your attention on the note you’re writing.
6. Archive everything that’s not an “active” email. “Why do we leave emails around?” Martin says. “It gives our brain the false sense of having so much to do, when in reality many of the emails are obsolete.” It’s time to get ruthless about your inbox. If you don’t actually need an email anymore — or if it doesn’t bring you joy — delete it, archive it, or put it in a folder where it’s less likely to cause stress. Like all things KonMari, it’s all about simplifying.
7. Use advanced searches. Learn how to be more strategic about searching for specific messages in your various folders and archives. You’ll be surprised about how specific you can get. Knowing that you can easily track messages down later on will make you feel more comfortable sorting and deleting emails before they linger in the inbox for too long.
8. Respond within 24 hours as much as possible. You don’t have to invest time in a complete, thoughtful response to every last message within a single day, but it might save you lots of headaches if you get in the habit of at least acknowledging receipt of new emails in the space of 24 hours. Give as many senders as possible a sense of the timeline you’re working on. If you’re going to address their questions or requests later in the week, let them know. This will cut back on lots of (annoying) check-in emails.
9. Shut down the inbox once or twice a day for deep work. “Email is great, but it’s also the ultimate work distraction,” Martin admits. “Try truly closing your email tab any time you have some time to accomplish something or do deep work.” It may feel weird to be offline at first, but you’ll adjust… especially when you realize just how much more productive you can be.
10. Mute notifications for incoming messages. Stop the madness with those notifications. Say goodbye to the pesky buzzes and alerts on your phone. This will allow you to be proactive about checking your inbox instead of constantly feeling as though you’re being chased by all of your devices.
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