Email Management and Getting to Inbox Zero (or Not!) 

Managing our emails can be the bane of our lives, nowadays, as we get hundreds of emails on a daily basis. In this article, I want to share with you some of the tips and strategies that I use to enable me to manage my email effectively and with ease.

Limit Your Time for Email Admin

The first thing to bear in mind is that we can easily get bogged down in our email, particularly if we keep checking it throughout the day, and then responding to people and taking action as we go. So, I corral all my email activity into one period of time during the day, and I have my inbox paused in between times. That’s not to say that I don’t check my emails more often, especially if I’m expecting something urgent, but I don’t admin my emails more than once a day.

I use a tool called Boomerang to pause my emails so that they only come into my inbox once a day. I set it to automatically do that at one o’clock every day but you can do that manually too when you’re ready to process your emails.

Use Sanebox

I use a tool called Sanebox to enable me to automatically sort my emails into various folders to make my email admin much easier. What Sanebox does is take the emails that come into your inbox and allocates them to various folders automatically. This then enables you to vary your approach to dealing with each of the folders based on what’s within them. For example, Sanebox takes all my newsletter emails and puts them into a standard Sanebox folder called @SaneNews. I have a separate folder that I set up myself called @SaneNewsIWant, which contains all the newsletters of people who I do want to keep up with mostly and regularly.

The difference between the two folders for me is that the newsletter folder is full of information that may be interesting at times and if I have time but mostly not. In that folder I just select all the emails, scan down and unselect any that catch my eye and look interesting and then I delete the rest.

It’s a very quick process. I might have 150 odd emails in there each day but they go away very quickly because mostly I’m not going to read them! And that does remind me, from an audience building point of view, of the importance of having really hooky, interesting subject lines on your emails in order to get people to click through to read them.

With the other folder, which is @SaneNewsIWant, I tend to read more of the emails in that folder so although I do scan down the list and delete the ones that I don’t want to read first, I do tend to read those that are left, which are a much more manageable number.

Of course I could just unsubscribe from most of the emails that I don’t read, but I do like to keep my options open, and this process means they aren’t bogging me down in the meantime!

Sanebox really makes it quick and easy to get through my email admin. The tool organises my emails into other folders like @SaneLater – those emails that are sent to me direct and fairly important – as well as my usual Inbox – my most important emails that need dealing with first – to allow me to prioritise my time, if necessary.

So, if I’m in a real hurry and I’ve not got time to admin all of the emails, I just pick on the Inbox because that’s likely to be the most important, most urgent, emails that I need to respond to.

Easy Unsubscribe

The other really cool functionality that Sanebox has is something called @SaneBlackHole.

One of the things that you can do to reduce the volume of emails that you have to deal with is to unsubscribe from people’s mailing lists.  Sometimes that doesn’t actually have the desired effect and you continue to get those emails coming through.

The @SaneboxBlackHole folder then becomes your friend! If you drag those emails to that folder then, for ever more, those emails will be sent straight to that folder, so you won’t have them to admin.

That’s a really good way to unsubscribe without too much effort (obviously it doesn’t help the people at the other end because they think you’re still subscribed to that list even though you’re not reading the emails!) and it’s reversible if you change your mind – you can just move those emails back into your email system and you continue to see any new emails from that list.

Processing your Important Emails with Ease

Once the emails are in my Inbox, I use the ‘touch it once’ policy.

I work using the four Ds of:

  • Do
  • Defer
  • Delegate
  • Delete

I basically work my way through each of the emails and make a decision to:

  • Do something, whether that be reply to it quickly, or take some action if it’s a quick action, say under a minute or two.
  • Defer it by adding it to my todo list. I use ToDoist and there are various ways of turning the email into a task; I just email it to my Todoist inbox.
  • Delegate it by sending it off to one of my VAs to do, or somebody else (colleagues, family etc!)
  • Delete it.

And that way I get to Inbox Zero once a day.

Getting to Inbox Zero

As I’ve said before, Inbox Zero isn’t about having no emails in your inbox (though I do choose to get there!). It’s about having nothing in your inbox that you’re not aware of.

So, if you’re somebody who doesn’t actually delete your emails and likes to keep lots of emails in your inbox, then you can still effectively use the Inbox Zero principles as long as you know what’s going on in your inbox and you’re not missing anything.

Using a To Do List

I’ve already mentioned that I send my deferred tasks to my Todoist Inbox. Once a day, before I do much else, I go through the inbox and allocate the tasks to the relevant project, or put them into the ‘scheduled’ folder and then add the relevant tags around context and time and set the priority level and, if required, due date, so that they appear on my to do list / project plans in the right place.

I really believe that you should take your task management out of your email platform.

Whilst you need to go into email to check things to answer emails, and to get relevant information to take some of the actions needed, if you spend all day in the inbox using it to manage your tasks then it can be really distracting.  New emails come in and you get distracted reading them and taking different action to the action that you were intending to take!

So, my suggestion is to take your tasks out of your email tool and put them somewhere else, whether that be in Todoist or another digital task management tool or using pen and paper!  

Use TextExpander or Similar to Reply to Emails Quickly

I use Text Expander to enable me reply quickly to many standard emails that I get. How it works is that, you type in a short code (usually from memory) and it automatically expands the code to be a longer text message.

For example, I admin the info@engageforsuccess.org email, as part of my work with the Engage for Success movement, and we often get people asking about writing content for our website. All I need to do in response to those emails is to hit reply and then use my TextExpander code ‘## contentreply’, and then the email that says ‘thanks for your interest in writing for our blog, here are the details of what you need to know…’ all appears. So I don’t have to reinvent the wheel and type something original out each time. When it’s a standard question, I have a standard answer to it!

Other Email Management Tips from GTD

Another couple of folders to mention in my email are ‘awaiting reply’ and ‘on hold’. I hadn’t realised until the other day when I was reading an article about GTD, the David Allen time management system that that’s where those folder ideas came from.

If you’re waiting for somebody else to do something, then putting the emails into an ‘awaiting reply’ folder, means that you don’t have to look at them all the time when it’s out of your control in terms of getting it done. I have an ‘awaiting reply’ folder in my email and also in my task list, so that I can put my emails and tasks into those folders until such time as I get a reply. I just scan through those lists once a week in case I need to follow up or chase up on something. Sanebox also has functionality that helps with this – a function called ‘Reminders’ where you cc that inbox with emails you want to follow up on and it will remind you.

I also have a folder called ‘on hold’. And that’s one where I keep the things that I need to refer to at short notice. So, if I’ve got a Zoom meeting that I’ve agreed coming up using someone else’s account so I just have a link for it in an email, or if we’ve got tickets to go somewhere or an arrangement that we need to be able to check back on easily, then I put that email into the ‘on hold folder’ so that I can find it easily.  

Again once a week I go through and clear out anything that’s out of date and doesn’t need to be in there any more.

Use Rules to Manage Email and Processes

I use rules as part of my email management too. I use another digital tool to manage the process of getting my invoices and receipts into my accounts system. It’s called Dext (formerly Receipt Bank). When invoices arrive I can just forward them to Dext to be processed.

Rather than do that manually, I set up filters in my gmail to automatically forward invoice emails to Dext so they don’t even hit my inbox.

Rules and filters can be really helpful if you’ve got standard emails coming in and you know what needs doing with them but you don’t need to physically do that yourself – you can get your email system to do that for you automatically.

Email Bankruptcy

If all else fails and you end up with hundreds of emails in your inbox and you can’t see yourself being able to improve on that situation or catch up and it’s causing you stress, one of the things you could do is declare email bankruptcy.

That’s where you create a folder called archive or ‘to sort’, or whatever, and then move all your emails out of your inbox into that folder, and then start afresh in terms of managing what’s coming in.

Then either gradually work your way through the archive folder and sort it out by doing a little bit each day over a long period of time. Or just ignore it on the basis that when people want things, and you haven’t replied to them, they’ll email you again.

That’s way to – sort of – start afresh, rather than trying to claw your way back from an ‘out of hand’ position that you might have got to with your email.

I hope you found these tips useful. As with anything in relation to productivity, this is all very personal and it’s about you getting really clear about what works for you and what doesn’t work for you.

It’s great to have potential tools that you can use and potential processes, but they do need to work for you and your personality and how you like to work. If you’ve got any questions or you’d like to talk to me about how I can help you to manage your email better, then please email me or set up a call here.

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