Change Your Inbox Habit

managing email is tough, you need a strategy

Checking email constantly makes you feel like you are getting things done, but in reality it is just another form of procrastination. You probably spend more of your day than you realize on email. That is why my main advice this week is for you to go on an email diet. Limit your email checking to 2-3 times per day. I find that once in the morning, once at lunch, and once in the evening works fine for me. It was very hard to follow at first, I had to force myself to not look at my iPhone’s inbox.

You need to realize that the world will go on. If people really need to get in touch with you, they should have your phone number or another more real-time method of communication. The nature of email is asynchronous, so use it that way.

rules of the road

What are some rules to follow to make this a reality? During your dedicated email times: 1. Open each email exactly once. 2. Deal with each email immediately when you open it. Ask yourself if it requires a response and if the response can be taken care of in the next two minutes. If it requires a response but will take longer, drop it in a ‘later’ folder to deal with when you have time. If you can respond to it right away, do so. If it doesn’t require any response then archive/delete. If it is something that you need to read later or check out later, drop into the appropriate folder/tag and move on.

Do this process for every single email in your inbox. Once you get to zero you are done. Oh, and don’t forget to unsubscribe from all unnecessary email lists, like Living Social, Groupon, and other email advertisements. Go about your day and enjoy the extra free time you have. If you really want to get fancy, you can use a service like IFTTT to send important emails & receipts automagically to Evernote for safe-keeping.

Need further help in setting up tags/folders or using IFTTT & Evernote with email? Email me or send me a tweet to setup a consultation.

Further reading:

  1. Nikil Viswanathan has some ideas about how to manage your inbox but I can’t recommend his method because it relies too heavily on Google Lab features in Gmail.
  2. Daily Blog Tips has a 10 Tips to Manage Email but it pretty much repeats what I say plus throws in a few items on how to setup your signature block and other items.
  3. has 5 simple and effective tips where the author calls the times throughout the day to check email as ‘email hotspots’ which sounds ridiculous to me and makes me think of wifi hotspots.