Strategies for dealing with forever-overwhelming email
July 6, 2011
Does anyone else constantly feel stressed by an always-overflowing inbox?
I can deal with my bedroom looking like a bomb went off, with clothes strewn across the floor. I can deal with dirty dishes and papers cluttering my desk. But if my digital life is not in complete and perfect order, I can’t think straight.
Which means I spend a lot of time trying to keep my inbox clean. Respond and delete. Label and file away. Respond and delete. Label and file away. My goal is always to be able to see all the messages in my inbox without scrolling down or clicking over to another page, and it feels like a never-ending battle.
Most of the emails we receive are “manufactured emergencies,” Tim Ferris writes in The 4-Hour Workweek. We’ve gotten in the habit of thinking that we have to take care of everything right away, which means putting off the important things we really want to get done.
Here are a few steps I take to keep my email at a manageable level:
- Use labels obsessively. Labels are Gmail’s equivalent of folders. If there’s an email I don’t want to delete, but I don’t need it staring at me from my inbox, I add a label, which files it away. My entire life is filed away in about 20 labels.
- Filter the non-essentials. I’m ashamed to admit I didn’t use this feature until after finishing Ferris’ book and feeling compelled to make a change. Now emails with a dozen keywords file into a folder I call “not important,” and I check that whenever I get around to it. Examples of emails that bypass my inbox and go directly into that file: HARO queries, Groupon and Living Social offers, notes from listserves, sales offers from my two favorite stores.
- Unsubscribe religiously. Rather than delete emails I don’t want, I take an extra few seconds to unsubscribe from those lists. Deleting is a short-term solution, but unsubscribing works in the long term.
But you know what? It’s not enough. Which is why I’m considering adopting one of these strategies:
- Ferris suggests email “batching,” or directing your email client to deliver emails only at certain times of the day, say noon and 5 p.m. This means, of course, that I’d be letting little bad things happen so I could accomplish my priorities; I’d risk missing an urgent email, but I’d probably get a lot more done during the day. Ferris says he uses an auto-responder that tells people he won’t respond until those times.
- Andrew Warner of Mixergy uses http://three.sentenc.es/, responding to all emails with three sentences or less. Seems like an effective strategy if I could stick to it.
How do you keep email from taking over your life?