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How to manage your email inbox like a pro

How to manage your email inbox like a pro

Fab Giovanetti
Confident young African American lady looking at camera against green wall

On average, you spend thirteen hours a week checking your email  inbox — gasp alert. I want you to check your tabs, and look for your little Gmail notification on your top screen. Or maybe you are one of those Mail people who like to use native apps on your laptop.

Either way, I bet you have your emails somewhat open in the background whilst reading it. Or you just swiped close your email app on your phone. The truth is, we spend around 28% of our time in the office in our inboxes.

40% of us check work emails at least five times a day outside of working hours.

(Harvard Business Review)

Jocelyn K. Glei, author of “Unsubscribe: How to Kill Email Anxiety, Avoid Distractions and Get Real Work Done” says that while checking emails throughout the day may make you feel productive, the opposite is true.

Sanam Hafeez, a New York-based psychologist and an adjunct associate professor at Columbia University’s Teachers College, says “work-life imbalance” is another driver of burnout. “Most people used to have 9-to-5 jobs, and people took one hour for lunch outside of the office,” she says.

Navigate your inbox the smart way

Since most small businesses pretty much run on email, our email inbox is now full of everything and anything including receipts, proposals and quick messages.

“Before the internet and cellphones and email, people could actually go on vacation or take a sick day and be officially disconnected,” she says. “Now there is an expectation that people must be connected to work 24/7 no matter where they are in the world.” (the Great Burnout Debate)

No matter how hard you work at it, sometimes emails just creep back into your inbox. You may feel like you are alone in this, but you are not. No matter who you are, or whether you work as a writer, freelancer, business owner or employee. The struggle to be on top of your emails is real.

Does this sound familiar?

There are multiple techniques you can use to reclaim your email time (and lower your anxiety levels).

  • Create different folders for different types of emails.
  • Use labels to help you track important emails.
  • Delete or archive old emails to keep your inbox organised.
  • Schedule emails to be sent or returned at a later time.

Creating email boundaries

What boundaries do you want to set for yourself? Boundaries are something I advocate for virtually anything, especially when it comes to your work environment.

We often set boundaries for co-workers, bosses, and clients, however, we struggle to do the same for our emails.

Most of the time the most pressure comes from ourselves: “I started full time in my business just over a year ago and as time has gone on my inbox has gotten crazier and crazier.” shared entrepreneur Cam Dempster. “I am one of those people who like to have 0 unread messages. I used to put a lot of pressure to reply to all emails as they came in and make sure my inbox was empty by the end of each day. Over the past 6 months, I’ve been putting in place practices to remove that stress”.

Following those three things, although simple, can make a huge difference to your inbox and concurrent stress levels. If you are a type-A personality, you may just want to let that whole ‘0 message email inbox’ thing go — that comes from a more holistic mindful practice.

How to organise your email inbox time

The first step to having a better relationship with your email inbox is to acknowledge that you have the power to organise your “email time”.

You can schedule emails, block time to engage with people or outsource to a VA (virtual assistant). Managing your time better means scheduling time to treat your emails as a task that needs completing. Ask yourself what boundaries have you set in place. Which boundaries do you wish to create when it comes to your inbox and dealing with whatever comes your way?

Most times we are our worst enemies when it comes to tackling our inbox. One of the trickiest things to set, when it comes to emails, is boundaries.

Since it’s really hard to have a face-to-face conversation with people nowadays we have to find other ways to communicate — and emails have almost become the best way to converse with teammates and clients alike. One way to do harness the urge to hit reply is making sure you promptly address overdue emails.

What can you do about stressful emails?

As well as positive emails and celebratory GIFS, we may occasionally find some “not so positive” emails lurking in our inboxes.

One email could truly make or break our day, especially if we check our emails more than three times per day (guilty as charged). First, some prep. If you open a stressful email, make sure you take some time before responding.

Another trick is to make time to deal with your emails, just like you’d do with meetings. You will be surprised at how much time you can gain if you plan to check your emails instead of reacting to every message.

You probably receive dozens or hundreds of emails every day. However, you don’t have to respond to each one of them as and when they hit your inbox.

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What about newsletters cramming up your inbox?

A simple way to clean up your inbox from the book Work Less, Make More. Open your email and do a search for the word “Unsubscribe.” This will pull up every email in your inbox that has an unsubscribe link in it. Go through and unsubscribe from the lists you no longer want to be on.

Best practices for dealing with uncomfortable emails

This is even more important with stressful emails. Good management is key, as well as taking the time to respond carefully.

One of the most important things when receiving a stressful email is not to avoid a response.

No one wants a cloud of negativity hanging over their heads for the remainder of the day. Plus, if you’ve already addressed the situation, then you are less likely to teeter back and forth on how you feel about the email

Simply write back, and then take responsibility for the issue or provide an explanation of what went wrong. Sometimes, the best you can say is, I’m so sorry that you feel that way or that you’ve had a bad experience and move on.

Most of our team nowadays clearly state when they are online and on emails by writing it in their signature. This way people know when to expect a response to a question. Especially in cases, their email does not fall under an urgent matter.

Another option is setting up an auto-responder, even if that could annoy people more than anything, especially in the long run. Whether you create an autoresponder or edit your signature, managing people’s expectations is part of the process.

Is it really a matter of mindset?

Overall, like most things in business, you can manage your email inbox or let them dictate your schedule. To have the right mindset to deal with stressful emails, you need to start being MINDFUL about your emails.

You want to make sure you make time for your emails when you are in the right state of mind. This may even mean deleting your email app from your phone, even if just for a short period of time.

Once you create the space for your emails, the magic truly unfolds.