Everyone struggles with email clutter. Your inbox is the gateway to your digital life, whether you are a retired grandmother or a busy CEO. The email inbox, like the entryway of a home, is a heavy traffic zone and therefore accumulates clutter. For most, it isn’t the top priority to face the problem of email head on. Instead, most people play an endless game of catch-up, or find a partial solution, like an app or service. If you tackle your email with a clarity of purpose you will find a solution that survives new jobs, new tech, and all other unforeseen email challenges that come your way.
First, take note of the patterns in your email. Keep these questions in your mind over the next few weeks as you check your inbox.
- What kind of emails do you receive?
- What kind of emails are a high priority?
- What emails do you usually skip over?
- What types of emails do you avoid responding to?
- What emails do you enjoy receiving?
I like to keep Tim Ferris’s 4 steps to freedom in mind when approaching my email. The four-step process is eliminate, simplify, automate, and delegate. Here’s how to apply these steps to streamlining your inbox. .
STEP 1: ELIMINATE
- Unsubscribe from unnecessary email subscriptions. Unroll.me is a service that neatly lines up your subscriptions on one screen and lets you decide which you want to unsubscribe from. The subscriptions you decide to keep will be combined into one daily email.
- Tackle your backlog. Mailstrom is a service that helps you roll through heavy batches of emails to mass archive, delete or process what seems like an impossible backlog.
STEP 2: AUTOMATE
Now that you’ve eliminated unwanted subscriptions, you’ll be left with emails that you would like for record-keeping purposes but are not necessarily action items: bills set to autopay, receipts, and package tracking are examples of these type of emails. These emails should be organized and easy to access but not distract from your high priority emails. Eliminate the distraction by creating filters so these types of emails are neatly organized in folders automatically. You can customize your categories with Gmail filters (here’s how) or Apple Mail’s rules (here’s how), or you can use a third-party application, such as:
- Edison Mail: OS that automatically separates subscriptions, travel, packages, bills & receipts, entertainment and security.
- Newton Mail: Tidy inbox feature separates subscriptions and social media into a Low Priority folder for a distraction free inbox.
STEP 3: DELEGATE
You don’t have to do it all. Here are a few tips to make email manageable by putting on your boss hat.
- Pass responses on to an assistant: Let them respond to the emails that don’t require your personal touch. Don’t have an assistant at the ready? Think about a virtual service.
- Develop this habit: If you can respond in 2 minutes or less, do it now.
- Flag messages: Mark messages that need personal and in depth responses. Then create a habit of dedicating 15 minutes each day to focus on your response.
- Create templates: You can do this for emails you send regularly. Draft them in your favorite note-taking program and simply copy and paste them. If you have a Mac, just draft a template like you would a regular email and instead of sending it, save it as a template.
- Stop using your inbox as a to-do list: Use an email app like Spark that allows you to forward important emails to todo list apps like Reminders, Evernote, Wunderlist or Things.
Finally, when dealing with email I always like to keep in mind the MINIMUM EFFECTIVE DOSE or MED. This is a concept explored by Christine Carter PhD. In her book, “The Sweet Spot: How to Accomplish More by Doing Less,” She explains; “The “minimum effective dose” (MED) is considered to be the lowest dose of a pharmaceutical product that spurs a clinically significant change in health or well-being.” Like Christine, I strive to find the MED for everything, so that I can be productive while still enjoying life.