That’s more than 25 emails per every human mind on the planet.
And that’s just what we send in one day (PDF).
Given the crazy amount of emails that are sent and received every day, it’s no wonder that this electronic communication has become too hard to handle for so many of us. But don’t worry, here are some productivity secrets that can help you tame the beast.
Use Canned Responses
I can’t stress the importance of this one. Chances are, you reply to many emails in the same way, whether it’s a refusal of a submission, acknowledging a colleague’s efforts or a simple greeting. The one thing you absolutely need to do is to create canned responses for your most oft-used emails.
It’s really easy to set up canned responses in Gmail or any other email client. No matter how fast a typist you are, you aren’t faster than two clicks of your mouse, right? Save yourself some time and do this now.
Set Up Filters & Labels/Folders
The best way to tackle an overload is to first sort it out. That means using filters and labels/folders in your inbox. Outlook has folders, Gmail has labels, and both have filters you can set up to auto-route your email to these folders and labels. You can set up advanced filters in Gmail according to your custom needs. In fact, Gmail offers to automatically bring some order to your email with its new Priority Inbox.
They take some time to set up and categorize well, and the first month requires constant input from you. But it’s well worth your time in the long run. Don’t just hurriedly put things under labels and filters, think about it and categorize well because this is the automation your inbox will use for the rest of your life.
I find it best to do to a 3-step check before you filter an email:
- Ask yourself what the best label/folder name (whether existing or not) would be for this message.
- Check if that name already exists, and if not, create it.
- Ask yourself if that name should be a separate entity or sub-categorised under one of the existing folders.
Do this regularly and your inbox will be magically cleaner.
Take Your To-Do List Elsewhere
Say it with me folks: “Your inbox is not your to-do list.” Google’s Vivek Haldar wrote about this a while back and I couldn’t agree more. Here’s Haldar’s take:
Email is a terrible place for a todo list. I really don’t get how one can tack on GTD to email. An email is not actionable. Once you read it and understand it, you might end up with a clear action, but your inbox is not the place to shove it.
Your email is about communication, so let it be about that. There are plenty of fantastic apps for to-do lists, and I’d highly recommend Any.do or Wunderlist.
Unsubscribe From Junk
You won’t believe how many newsletters and other junk email is clogging up your inbox, despite a spam filter. And once clutter starts building up, it can quickly get out of control.To stop it in its tracks, you need to start unsubscribing and there’s one really easy trick to do that.
In your email client, just search for the word “unsubscribe”. It’s appended at the end of every newsletter, so you will suddenly see a list of all the mass mails in your inbox. Now just open them one by one and unsubscribe. I recommend using Gmail’s Preview Pane when you do this to speed things up.
There are also add-ons and services to quickly unsubscribe from mailing lists or bunch them up into email digests.
The Golden Question To Ask Each Email
This is the biggie and it’s what has helped me keep on top of my inbox overload over the past year. BBC Future’s Tom Stafford offered one golden question to ask yourself when opening any message:
“If I didn’t have this information in my inbox, would I go out looking for it?”
If the answer is no, don’t hit reply or hit delete without even opening it. It’s that simple. No, you aren’t going to miss out on anything huge — I’ve been doing it for a year and it actually works. Here’s Stafford’s explanation for it:
Nowhere is this more apparent than the group email and the avalanche of replies that invariably ensues. Strike back by reminding yourself that not all email has to be replied to, that lots of issues will be – and should be – dealt with by other people. Ask yourself: “If I didn’t have this information in my inbox, would I go out looking for it?” Most of the time the answer is probably “no”, and that’s a sign that someone else is controlling your attention.
Share Your Email Hacks
Everyone has their own email hacks to manage the clutter and the best way to learn is by sharing them. We also have our own Gmail Guide for Everyone. It helps, as does the advice from pro users. If Stafford hadn’t written that article, I would still be drowning in messages and I’m forever grateful to him for that.
So tell me, how do you handle your email overload? There are no wrong answers here, folks.