Taming the Inbox
Updated: Nov 7, 2019
When email first came out, AOL proudly declared: "You've got mail!" Today we celebrate having no emails. If you manage to empty your inbox in Gmail, you're greeted by "No new mail!" What a shift. Rather than explore the reasons you now hate your email, I'll be sharing my best tips for keeping a tidy inbox. (The irony of me emailing you this is not lost on me.)
The first way to keep a tidy inbox is to prevent worthless emails from being created in the first place. Emails that contain nothing but a thumbs up or smile emoticon don't ever need to enter your inbox. To prevent short time-wasting emails try ending your own emails with "nntr", short for "no need to reply".
Unsubscribe liberally. If you haven't looked at the weekly updates in months, you're probably never going to. Scanning back over the emails you get and unsubscribing is another way to stop getting so many emails to begin with.
Inbox When Ready for Gmail is a great Chrome Extension that helps keep you from logging into your inbox to send an email only to get distracted by all those juicy inbox emails. Inbox When Ready for Gmail hides the inbox by default so that you have to proactively click a button to see your inbox. If you still can't keep the compulsion under control, they have features that allow you limit your access to the inbox based on time of day or the total number of times you open it.
Filter Messages Like These is a Gmail feature but most email platforms support similar functionality. If you have emails that keep coming in that you can't figure out how to unsubscribe from, this feature allows you to automatically archive emails from a specific sender or containing a keyword. If you do this you'll find that a higher percentage of your emails are relevant to you.
Stop checking email many times a day. In fact, if you are serious about taking control of your inbox, I recommend keeping email off your phone altogether. When you consider that 62% of emails are considered irrelevant by the recipient, it starts to seem insane that 70% of emails are opened within 6 seconds.
Consider that many of the emails keeping you from achieving Inbox Zero may reflect decision debt. Decision debt describes situations where you need to decide something in order to reply to or archive the email. For example, are you going to buy tickets to the Ariana concert or not? Will you be going to the potluck and if so what will you take to share? Take care of these by setting aside time to think clearly and make the decisions.
Use the Pomodoro Technique to stay focused on knocking out your inbox for 25 minutes straight. The technique suggests working in 25 minute spurts with 5 to 15 minute breaks in between. There are lots of free digital Pomodoro Timers out there, but I recommend using an old fashioned sand timer. If you notice the sand has all found its way to the bottom, that means you looked up which means your attention was naturally beginning to wander, a great time for a break. Also, all the beeping the digital timers made became really annoying.
The last thing I would add is that Inbox Zero should never be your primary aim in life. There will always be more emails. As soon as you reply to all of the emails new ones will appear. Just find a way to manage email so that it supports your goals in life without derailing you. If you need Inbox Zero to feel in control, that's great, but if you don't, no need to beat yourself up.