Get control of your email inbox

Your email inbox is crucial, yet often neglected. It’s often an environment that is disorganized and difficult to navigate. Would you treat your real mail like that? Would you leave junk items there? A well organized inbox promotes productive and less stressed work. The items in your inbox should be new and they should be important. Everything else should be elsewhere.

Get GMail. It’s simple, free, and robust. If you don’t have an account, open one. Forward your current email to Gmail. We’re going to turn it into your virtual assistance machine.

Filter out the non-essential

To simplify things, you need to get all non-essential mail into a folder. Go into your settings (the gear icon in the upper right), and add a new filter. Filter all messages with the word “unsubscribe” to a new label called “optional.” Make this filter archive emails so they skip your inbox. Almost all emails containing “unsubscribe” are non-essential and don’t need to be delivered to your inbox, which we’re reserving only for important and/or action items. Only check this “optional” folder when you have the time. Your inbox is a sacred place for important stuff. Unsubscribe from newsletters and emails you don’t want. If unsubscribing doesn’t work, filter emails into the trash.

Stop the constant onslaught

You are probably constantly distracted by new emails. We don’t want this. We want to schedule emails. This will greatly reduce distractions and help you stay on task. Here’s the free tool I use to do this. It’s called the Gmail Timer. You can set how often you get emails. Most people think this will destroy their responsiveness. I have found, in a year using it at my work, no one has noticed. Email is not a chat line, nor is it the only form of communication. If people need to reach you immediately, there are other methods. Gmail Timer gives you various options of how long to delay messages. I’ve found the sweet spot for me is receiving emails around every 2 hours. 4x a day. This limits distractions but prevents missing anything that needs relatively quick attention.

Let Gmail remember things for you

Email requires follow up. You don’t want to have to remember that. Let the machines do the remembering so you can get down to the real work. For this, you’re going to need  Boomerang. Boomerang schedules emails for specific times in the future. For a follow up on a sales lead tomorrow, you can do it now, and let Boomerang send it out later. You can also send emails back to yourself in the future. If you send an email to Bob on Monday asking for the budget analysis you need on Friday, use Boomerang to send back that email to you, if you don’t hear a reply, on Thursday. You can totally forget about that report until then. Use Boomerang to remind yourself about conversations and tasks that you don’t need in your inbox now, but would like to remember in the future. This keeps tasks out of your head that don’t need to be there. Your inbox is a place for relevant and important items that need to be addressed right now.  

Sorting through what’s left

1)Do you want it sent back to you later because you are not quite sure what to do with it or the conversation is still lacking a clear action? Use Boomerang.

2) Does it involve a clear and specific task? Get it on your calendar. Free floating tasks and to-do lists are much more stressful and difficult to deal with than tasks assigned to a specific time. Setting a specific time to deal with something gets it off your mind. No, you can’t multitask well, nor can you multi-focus. Having a free floating to-do list, instead of a calendar, forces multi-focusing and gets us overwhelmed.

3)Is it junk? Delete it. Find a pattern in your junk and keep building filters until 90% of it never hits your inbox. Good filters block specific words, specific email addresses, or whole email domains.

This system will improve your email and simplify your work.

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