Staying on top of your email can be overwhelming, time-consuming, and tedious. It’s not hard to rack up a large number of unread emails. And for that reason, it’s easy to keep checking your constant influx of messages — at the expense of other tasks.
I have multiple email accounts, and I struggle with keeping that unread count low. So I did some research and compiled advice on how I could get better at managing my inbox. Here are some helpful tips I found for making your inbox easier to handle, spending less time dealing with emails, and making sure you don’t forget to respond to an important message.
Don’t check all of your emails as they come in
Since emails land in your inbox throughout the day, it’s easy to get distracted by them, even when you’re in the middle of something important. Instead of reading each one as soon as you get it, set aside some time every day to go through your emails and respond. If you don’t need to be on the lookout for important emails or announcements, schedule in a few short periods during the day to check your email. Other than that, stay out of your inbox.
It’s also a good idea to schedule a longer chunk of time once a week or every few days to do some more heavy-duty inbox organization, like making and using folders and labels and sending those longer emails.
If you still find yourself wandering into your email app, you may also want to turn off email notifications, keep that email app closed, and make sure you haven’t left your inbox open in another tab.
You don’t have to answer them all immediately
When you’re doing one of your regular inbox checks, only deal with those emails that can be handled quickly. If an email needs a quick response, open and answer it as you go through your messages. But if it needs more time, set aside that time to answer it later. You can label those emails, put them in a specific folder, or use the snooze feature to receive the email at a more convenient time.
Create multiple sections or folders in your inbox
Use different folders to store your emails. These can be based on importance, urgency, how long it takes to handle them, or the kinds of actions they require. Gmail’s default tabbed layout and Outlook’s focused inbox can help filter out spam and promotional emails and make it easier to find and check the important emails. In Gmail, you can also change the layout so that your emails are sorted into different sections, and you can choose what those sections are. Similarly, Outlook allows you to organize your email into custom groups.
Use filters, rules, and labels
Filters and rules direct incoming emails to specific folders. They can help save you time, and make sure your attention is focused on the most important emails. Labels can also be a good way to organize and help you keep track of your email by letting you sort your messages with different tags instead of using folders.
Sometimes you end up sending similar emails repeatedly. To make things easier, you can set up email templates and use those to send out emails so you don’t have to keep writing the same message over and over. You can also use tools like Gmail’s Smart Compose and Smart Reply to help write emails quicker.
Unsubscribe from mailing lists and promotional emails. Go through your newsletters and make sure you’re only signed up for the ones you actually read, and delete any you haven’t read recently. Also, be sure to unsubscribe from any social media alerts you don’t need. (You may need to go into your social media accounts’ settings to switch this off.) Alternatively, you can use a separate email account for promotional emails and keep your important emails on your main account.
Mute group emails you don’t need
If you get CC’d on a conversation you don’t really need to be updated on or you’re in a reply-all email thread, you can mute that thread to avoid getting all of the responses. To do that, open any message in the thread, click the three dots toward the top-right corner of the screen (above the subject line), and select “Mute” from the drop-down options in Gmail or “Ignore” if you’re using Outlook.
Don’t make your inbox your to-do list
It may be tempting to mark an email as “unread” as a reminder to reply to it (I’m definitely guilty of this) or because it contains a task you need to complete, but this can also clutter your inbox. Keep a separate to-do list (there are a lot of apps available for that, or you could use a basic notes or sticky notes app) or put it in a specific folder. If you use Gmail, you can use Google’s Task app side by side with your inbox; just click on the tiny “Show side panel” arrow at the bottom right-hand corner of the screen, and select the Tasks icon there.
It’s a good idea to have separate lists running that you can update with items from your emails. For example, if your emails contain links to articles you want to read when you have more time, start a reading list — just don’t keep it in your inbox.