My husband recently told me he was so overwhelmed by his overflowing email inbox that he was considering starting a new email address all together. It had gotten to the point where it seemed insurmountable, and a fresh start sounded good.
Let’s get this out of the way: I generally go to bed with under ten emails in my inbox. Sometimes it’s zero and I feel like I’m winning at life.
My process is simple: If I need to respond to something it stays in my inbox. Otherwise I delete, archive, or file it. My files are organized into broad categories like “kid stuff” or “receipts,” and I’m ruthless with deleting.
Are you ready to overhaul your inbox? Try these 5 simple steps:
If your inbox has crawled into the thousands, be real with yourself. You’re never going to have the time, or the inclination, to review and respond to each one. Instead, pick a number (I suggest 500 or less) and archive all but the 500 most recent. If something is important, trust that you can search and find it, or the sender will follow up.
Unsubscribe + Delete
You know that I believe organized clutter is still clutter, so the most important practice is to try to stop email clutter from entering your inbox in the first place. Delete spam and junk immediately, and unsubscribe from all unwanted emails, or use a free service like unroll me to make the process more efficient.
I never advocate for what I call “over organizing,” but I do suggest sorting the emails you want to keep into broad categories. I have folders for orders and receipts, kid-related stuff, tax receipts, personal notes, and all communication related to my business. Keeping the categories big and broad makes it easy to “file” emails and find them later. My folders include the following: Chloe Stuff, Emilie Stuff, Personal, Shira Gill Home, Life Coach School, Orders & Receipts, and Tax Receipts.
I often find myself blasting through the easy emails first, and procrastinating on the ones that require more thought and action. The best course of action though is always to start with what’s actually important. Before you even OPEN your email, take a minute to think about your priorities for the day and then focus on responding to the emails that align with your goals and priorities, instead of grabbing the low hanging fruit.
Use Canned Responses
My friend, Mimi, taught me about canned responses a few years ago, and I cannot believe how much time this simple hack has saved me. If you find yourself sending the same emails again and again, consider creating a templated response to save yourself time and energy. Here’s how. I use this to respond to blog submissions (I don’t take them) as well as coordinating the weekly bake sale for my kids’ school. This saves me so much time, and I can respond to many emails within seconds, and then file or delete them. Game changer.
Now back to my husband and his 5,000 unread emails. I thought about it, and suggested that he just archive everything but the most recent 100 emails. Gmail provides enough storage to archive, and it’s easy to search by name or subject should he need to find something. He liked this idea, and within minutes he had cleared out thousands of old emails, (archiving 100 at a time) and created the clean slate he was looking for. With only a hundred left, he was then able to respond to the most important, and archive the rest. Victory.
How do you handle email overload? Do you have certain times a day you check your inbox? I’d love to know what’s working for you!
Image Credit: Vivian Johnson Photography for Shira Gill
6 comments on “5 Steps to Take Control of Your Email Inbox”
Hi Shira! I love this post, so helpful! What did you name your folders? Thank you!
So glad you enjoyed! I just added all of my folders to the post. My folders include the following: Chloe Stuff, Emilie Stuff, Personal, Shira Gill Home, Life Coach School, Orders & Receipts, and Tax Receipts. Hope that helps!
What’s your criteria for archiving vs delete? Doesn’t archive just create another in-box (of sorts) to go through? Thanks! Great article!
I delete all junk, spam, and messages I’ll never need to refer back to. I archive anything that has been responded to, but I may want to search for one day for whatever reason. When you archive on Gmail, you can search later by name or subject, but don’t have to have the messages clutter up your inbox. I file anything that I know is important like records, receipts, tax docs, etc. Hope that helps!
Thank you so much Shira! This is really helpful. Where do you keep your flight reservations and travel info? So hard to keep track of!
I put all travel info in my Google calendar for the dates I am traveling. TripIt is a great app you might want to check out for centralizing all travel info into one place!