Inbox Management: Steps to Stop Drowning in Your Emails

Life preserver hanging on a post at the beach

If you’re like a lot of busy people, it’s not uncommon for you to rack up 50, 100, 200, even 500 emails per day that are each important and need to be dealt with. This means that if you ignore your email for a few days it’s totally realistic to come back to upward of 2,000 messages, each waiting for an action from you.

You’re drowning in a tidal wave of information, and you’ll never make it to shore unless you calm down and take action. It also helps if you know how to swim.

Below we outline some simple but highly effective inbox management steps to help you swim through your emails when the tide is rising, followed by a few tips on keeping your head above water in the future.

1. Triage Your Emails

Sign on door reading Mail Sorted

First things first: You need to use the triage method on your emails. In short, this means creating three buckets to dump your emails in. This is best done by creating three folders:

  • Immediate
  • This Week
  • Everything Else

Your naming can vary based on preference, but basically these folders divide emails into three categories.

  • Folder 1 is messages that require Immediate attention, such as late bills, employees quitting, and fires that need to be doused. You’ll deal with these as soon as you’re done triaging.
  • Folder 2 is filled with items that, while important, can be handled over This Week. These could be questions about a product, requests for white papers, or questions about upcoming holidays by an employee.
  • Folder 3 is Everything Else. If it’s not a task you’re planning on resolving in the next week, or not a task at all, just drop it here. You’ll get to deleting junk in a bit.
  • Remember, triaging is about organizing. Don’t take action on messages just yet – we’ll get to that in a minute.

    2. Act on the Easy Tasks Now

    The next step is to act on the easiest of the Immediate tasks. Don’t worry about what order the emails came in. Skip through and complete the ones that only require a quick approval or a file sent.

    This helps clear things out to make messages easier to see, and it also helps you feel you’ve accomplished something. Instead of resolving three tough items, you have 10 to 20 easy ones behind you. Trust us: This will make the difficult messages easier to deal with.

    Once the easy actions in the Immediate folder are done, peruse folder 2 for simple tasks. Complete those and then we’ll move on to folder 3.

    Duplicate contacts killing your productivity? See how Scrubly can help in this 100-second video.

    3. Delete Newsletters and Stock Emails

    Sign on door reading No Junk Mail

    Now it’s time to take care of folder 3. You’ll be triaging this folder as well, but a little differently. First, any email that’s a stock message or newsletter gets deleted. It doesn’t matter if you think it’s an interesting message or not. If it’s not vital to your daily operations, delete it. There will be more, that’s for sure.

    With these emails deleted, move items out of this folder and into the Immediate and This Week folders. Anything you’re not sure of you can leave in folder 3 for now, until you get some emails resolved.

    4. Get to Work

    Now that you’re organized and your main inbox itself has no messages in it, the time has come to get to work. Blast through folders 1 and 2 as best as you can and start clearing emails out.

    This is obviously the hard part, but normally you would just start here anyway and tirelessly work on emails. Instead, now you’re organized and probably have 10 or more simple emails taken care of, and at least 10 newsletters gone. You’re already 20 messages ahead of the inbox management game, so remember that!

    5. Keeping Your Head Above Water

    Now that you’re getting your head above water and starting to swim to safety, let’s talk about keeping things working in the future so you never run into this issue again.

    First, unsubscribe from as many newsletters and site emails as possible. Only leave the ones that you truly value (like Scrubly’s emails, right?). This will cut down on the clutter you normally just scan and delete.

    Next, utilize rules in your inbox to automatically sort your emails and file away ones that you don’t need to manually review. This can cut a LOT of emails out of your inbox, so give it a try.

    Finally, craft better emails so you get fewer responses. Only request a response if it’s necessary and you trust the people you’re sending to. If you want to see how people open your emails, use something like Yesware to get feedback in a proper location.

    By crafting better emails and managing how people respond to you, you can cut that tidal wave of messages down to a manageable swell, so a few days out of the office will only mean a few hundred emails — instead of a few thousand.

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