20 Hacks To Help You Achieve Inbox Zero
The average inbox has nearly 200 unread emails. Woof! Read on to become an expert declutterer.
Email is a ubiquitous mode of workplace communications, and even with chat apps like Google, Skype, and Slack on the rise, fighting an increasingly cluttered inbox is a common challenge for most professionals.
In fact, new research from Workfront found that the average worker’s inbox contains 199 unread emails. This onslaught of messages can create stress and distract you from your biggest priorities, so it’s important to keep them in check.
Here are a few winning strategies for getting organized:
1. Ditch those unwanted subscriptions.
We all get them, lots of them, but how many of us actually unsubscribe to these emails as opposed to just sending them to our trash folder? Fortunately, there’s a free tool called Unroll.Me, which will not only help you through the tedious and daunting task of unsubscribing to the newsletters you don’t want, but also collate the ones you want to keep into a single, convenient digest. Win-Win.
2. Try time-blocking.
Take a look at your schedule and find a time once per week to go through your emails as a designated “trash day.” It can be while you’re sipping your Saturday a.m. coffee or while you’re looking to kill time on the train to or from work. It doesn’t have to be a long chunk of time, just enough to de-clutter and ensure you don’t miss anything important.
3. Befriend the filter function.
No matter what email provider you use, more than likely there’s a capability to set up filters to help you manage your inbox. These are great for those emails we can come back to later. Use filters to quickly and seamlessly stay organized and save time you can otherwise spend on more important things. One word of caution with this tip: Be selective and simple with the filters. There is such a thing as too many filters and these will quickly become counterproductive and add to the problem.
4. Install Boomerang for Gmail.
Boomerang is a free plug-in for both Firefox and Chrome that allows you to write an email and schedule it to be sent in the future, set reminders so any potential follow-ups aren’t accidentally neglected, and archive emails to be placed back in your inbox at a designated time if you know you’ll need to revisit them. Your inbox will stay manageable, and you won’t have to worry about anything slipping through the cracks.
5. Avoid having multiple email addresses.
It goes without saying, but nonetheless worth repeating: the fewer email addresses you can get away with, the better. Try to stick to a personal email and a work email. If you can’t, a best practice to implement is to have your emails auto-forwarded to one inbox. That way, you are consolidating and when you are sorting through email, can do it in one location as opposed to signing in and out of multiple accounts to do the same task. To do this from Gmail, go into “Settings” designated by the gear icon, then under the heading “Forwarding and POP/IMAP,” click “Add a forwarding address.” Type in the email address you want messages to be forwarded from, and BINGO, an automatic copy will go to your primary inbox.
This is an oldie, but a goodie, in terms of hacks. To more efficiently sift through your messages, use CTRL or Command-F, depending on if you’re using a PC or a MAC, to call up the search bar. From there, you can do a keyword search to help you instantly locate a particular message or thread of emails. Some good examples include the last name of an individual, a word or phrase related to the subject of the email and if there were any attachments included, use the file extension ( .pdf, .doc, .ppt, etc.).
7. Take advantage of Priority Inbox.
In a nutshell, Gmail’s Priority Inbox separates your important emails from your unimportant ones so you can quickly gauge what needs attention and what can either be disregarded or responded to later. Not only will this help you stay more productive, but as an added bonus, over time as you look at both your regular and Priority Inboxes, Gmail will get smarter about what you need to read and what you don’t and which inbox your communications belong in.
8. Create templates.
Creating an outline that you can use when replying to certain or frequent emails will be a lifesaver. The quicker turnover means your emails won’t pile up and you won’t feel as overwhelmed by your inbox.
9. Use the calendar when possible.
All of you type A personalities will appreciate this next tip: For project deliverables or things that require a simple reminder, like making a call or following up with someone, use the calendar as opposed to taking up valuable inbox space. Reminding yourself this way will also reduce the risk you’ll miss the reminder or notice altogether.
10. Tee up your OOO reply when you’re on vacation.
Before taking a vacation, set up an automated email response. This will help minimize the clutter as it’ll inform people you are unable/unavailable to respond as opposed to simply not getting back to them. As a result, they won’t feel the need to ping you again.
11. Remember that Google Hangouts isn’t just for remote teams.
Google Hangouts offers video conferencing, instant messaging and phone calls that can not only benefit those working from home (WFH) but for those in the same building as well. Example? Reserving any quick questions or exchanges of feedback to the chat platform versus starting a back-and-forth email thread that unnecessarily clogs your inbox. (Slack works here, too.)
12. Refrain from hoarding tendencies.
Ignore that little voice in your head pressuring you to save messages that are months and years old “just in case.” Deleted items are stored in the Trash folder for days sometimes even up to a month, so if you make a mistake you won’t have to sweat it. If you’re really concerned, just back the message and any related attachments/files up on your computer or in your Google Drive.
13. Be strategic with who you Cc and Bcc.
This will benefit you and the other person. Everyone you add to an email equals a potential response. At the same time, if you add someone to a thread as a “Cc” or “Bcc” who may not necessarily need to be looped in, you’re cluttering their inbox. Do yourself a favor by saving yourself from any excess replies meanwhile exhibiting good email etiquette.
14. Add acronyms and default actions to your notes.
For emails you send that don’t require a response, which will likely be the case more often than not, use an acronym to convey that clearly to the recipient. Whether that’s “ASAP,” “FYI,” or the most direct, “NRN” (no response needed), these can all serve to dictate the flow of communications so there isn’t any confusion and you aren’t getting unnecessary responses. Similarly, you can use language such as “If I don’t hear back from you by Wednesday, I’ll go ahead and set up the meeting.”
15. Disable social media notifications.
Unless you absolutely need to know when someone commented on your post, these are for all practical purposes, junk messages that aren’t worth clogging your email inbox. Save yourself from being notified twice, via email and when you next log into the platform itself, by turning these off.
16. Report spam and phishing emails.
No one is impervious to unsolicited emails, but we can report them and should when we see them pop into our inboxes. By doing this instead of simply deleting them, we help Gmail learn to always mark certain messages as spam that we’ve reported, thereby avoiding even seeing these messages in the first place.
17. Find and remove the biggest culprits.
If you’re coming close to the 15GB limit Gmail allows, check out Find Big Mail. FBM is a web interface that performs a scan/analysis of your inbox and sorts your email into three labels: My Big Mail, My Really Big Mail and My Ulta Big Mail. From there, you can parse through and get rid of the biggest emails and free up storage. It’ll also provide you with a full report and a pie graph that breaks down your emails based on size.
18. Play the Email Game.
If you’re motivated by rewards and competition, play the Email Game. As a fun alternative to an otherwise undesirable task, the game presents you with one email a time and you’re up against the clock to make a decision about the message before the next is displayed. The timer will turn red if you are taking too long. The more messages you action, the more milestones you surpass and the more points you accumulate.
19. Create a signature with contact info.
You don’t have to get too personal with these, but by creating a signature with basic things that can be found on a business card like like the address to your company’s homepage or your direct dial (vs. your mobile phone), you can reduce emails that you otherwise would likely get requesting such information.
20. Swipe with Spark.
If you’re into that whole Tinder-swiping concept, you’ll love the email app Spark, which is compatible with devices like the iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch. By swiping either left or right, you’ll either archive the message or trigger its deletion.
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