Whenever my husband, Joseph, opens up his email, I quickly turn away.
I cannot handle the 4,759 unopened emails that flood his screen. My heart races just thinking about it!
Meanwhile, I get twitchy if I see my emails creep over to the second page.
Because if you don’t know how to manage email, its one of those things that can quickly grow into a monstrous mess.
I’ve seen it happen with Joseph, and at times, I’ve had it happen to me as well.
The truth is, if I’m not in control of my inbox, I don’t feel in control of my life. In fact, before I implemented the system I’m about to show you, I would—no joke—check my email 10-20 times per day just to stay on top of it!
But now, I don’t need to maniacally check and process emails all day anymore. I know exactly where each type of email should go and what action I should take.
If you’ve caught yourself singling out the important emails while leaving the rest to pile up in your inbox and are ready to declare email bankruptcy… or you simply want to be more proactive in maintaining the coveted inbox zero, I hope these tips and strategies will help you wrangle your email into submission again.
In full disclosure, I’m a small business owner who has since delegated email management over to another team member. But this system is the one I set up when I managed email myself. It still works even though I’ve trained someone else to handle it for now! I’ll provide some insight into how that process works at the end of this post.
But first, and probably the most important and effective step you can take to manage your email, is to cut down on the amount of emails coming in.
1. Declutter Your Subscriptions
The majority of emails I receive (this is probably true for you too!) consist of store promotions and newsletter subscriptions rather than personal notes from friends or business emails from colleagues.
That’s why I have two email addresses.
- One I use personally and for my business
- One I give out to stores (i.e. Ulta) who ask for my email address at checkout or if I’m signing up for a downloadable freebie on another website.
I only check this “junk” inbox once a week or whenever I’m running errands and want to see if I have a coupon. It’s not organized and it doesn’t have to be. Just having a separate inbox cuts down on sooo much digital clutter!
Then to keep my main inbox from piling up, I unsubscribe from any email newsletters that don’t serve me anymore.
You probably have a few of these too. (Hopefully, not the weekly newsletter that I send out, though! 😉).
Maybe you exchanged your email for a freebie and find yourself skipping over every other email they send you. Only stay subscribed to the people you look forward to reading and unsubscribe ruthlessly from those who no longer interest you.
Gmail makes this really easy by positioning an unsubscribe link towards the top of almost every email. As I was writing this post, I unsubscribed from five people myself!
I’ve tried services like Unroll.me in the past, but I didn’t find them intuitive to use. It might be just me! But I mention it just in case you want to try the service yourself and “roll up” all your subscriptions in one email.
2. Create Folders and Filters
I’ve read a lot of email organization blog posts that talk about how to manage email, and almost all of them suggest creating folders for emails that require a response.
I like knowing that all the emails left in my inbox require an action from me. It’s how I keep things organized! I still use folders, but they are more for quick reference rather than actions I need to take.
Here are the folders I suggest everyone has:
- Coupons & Promos (I throw any sales emails that come into my main inbox here)
- To Read (I filter newsletters subscriptions to skip the inbox and go directly here)
- Waiting On (Whenever I’m waiting for the other person to take action on an email or I’m waiting on an online order to ship, I’ll toss those emails in here)
However, you may have other folders you need specific to you. For example, I also have:
- Buzz File (Kind words from my lovely readers!)
- Joseph (Anything business-related that he has to deal with)
- Sales (All Shopify orders)
- Swipe File (Emails that inspire me when writing my own)
- Travel Plans (Upcoming campground reservations)
Every few weeks, I’ll comb through these folders and delete any expired coupons, archive online orders I’ve received, and any campground reservations we don’t need anymore.
Just a quick reminder: you don’t need to go crazy with folder organization. The Gmail search function is so robust that you can rely on that rather than get religious about using folders. I only create folders when I want to be able to reference something QUICKLY or sit down with a cup of my favorite tea and work through my “To Read” folder.
3. Establish an Email-Checking and Processing Routine
If you don’t want email to control you, the number one thing you can do is turn off notifications and only check email 1-2x per day, while following a specific processing routine when you do log on.
Remember there is a difference between checking email and processing email. Make sure you are doing both!
I try (but don’t always stick to this!) to process email during my “office hours”, where I dedicate an hour a day to more administrative tasks. Every email I touch requires one of five actions:
- Assign a Folder
- Send Reply + Archive (in settings, you can “turn on” this function to reply and archive the email with one click)
If you find yourself opening and closing emails without taking action, ask yourself why.
- Does one require a really long response and you’re dreading all that typing?
- Or maybe you don’t want to make a decision yet so you’re not sure what to say?
You might want to check out other communication apps like Voxer (audio messages) or Marco Polo (video messages) and move conversations between friends there. Even though most multitasking is a myth, these apps allow you to use your hands for other things—like folding laundry, driving, etc—while chatting with a friend.
As for not wanting to commit to a decision, remember that not making a decision is still a decision. Take some time to think about your response so when you sit down to write it you’ll know exactly what to say.
Other Smart Hacks To Use As You’re Learning How to Manage Email
1. Use the Filter & Skip Inbox tool
I mentioned this briefly when talking about my To Read folder, but you can do this with any email! For example, you could filter emails from retail stores to your “Coupons & Promos” folder.
If you run an Etsy shop, you could filter sales emails to go into a “Sales” folder. Let your email service do this automatically to save you time and the headache of seeing all those emails in your main inbox.
In Gmail, click on the email you want to filter, hover over the three dots up above, and choose “Filter Messages Like These”.
Then, select the settings for what actions you’d like the filter to take on that type of email. When you’re done, hit “Create Filter,” and you’ll be all set!
2. Create ALERT tags for emails you don’t want to miss
For any bills you need to pay, you can use the same filtering tool to add an “Alert” tag that still allows the email to stay in your inbox. That way, when you log in you can immediately see which emails require action and you won’t lose them in a sea of your other emails. You’ll be able to avoid incurring those pesky late fees.
3. Turn off your Promotions “inbox”
Gmail made a horrible change (at least in my opinion) quite a few years ago that created multiple inboxes in one. Multiple emails drive me crazy, but multiple inboxes drove me over the edge.
Here’s how to remove that feature in your email so you have just one tidy inbox to manage without all those tabs:
For Those Who Want to Delegate Email Management
If you’re ready to let someone else take over your email, I recommend creating a system that works for you first. This will help you seamlessly transition the workload over to another… along with these additional tips!
1. Create a list of “email rules”.
In Notion (the tool my team and I use to communicate and collaborate with each other) I’ve created a page of “if/then” actions for the most common emails we receive. This cuts down on requests to me as to what action we should take on a particular email.
2. Establish a workflow between you and your assistant.
When emails do require an action from me (or an “FYI, you should probably know about this” type of email), we have a separate page in Notion for each week Monday-Friday. Here, my assistant lists any emails with actionable tasks for me. I check this document during my daily Office Hours to see what needs my attention.
What You Might Be Worried About
Any new system will take some time to set up.
You have to figure out what works and what doesn’t, which folders you actually need and which ones are just an unnecessary step. And when thousands of emails are staring you in the face, maybe all you want to do is just run and hide!
So where do you start?
- If you need to, declare email bankruptcy by archiving (not deleting) all the emails in your inbox. They’ll still be there to reference and if someone really needs to get a hold of you, they will email again!
- Then after your inbox is clear, dedicate the next few days to comb through the new emails that come in and set up your system. Delete. Unsubscribe. Create other folders as needed. Archive. Reply (especially if it will take 30 seconds or less to send a response).
- After a few weeks, you’ll understand more about your inbox than ever before and can begin creating filters to automate some of that deleting, unsubscribing, and archiving for you.
Every step you take to organize your inbox is one step closer to your digital peace of mind. The time invested up front is 100% worth that.
How many emails are in your inbox right now?
Don’t be shy! Drop a number below and let me know which tip you found most helpful in this post!
Disclosure: Some of the links in the post above are affiliate links. This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. Read my full disclosure policy here.