I used to cry every time I opened my email inbox. 80 emails. 120 emails. 230 emails. It didn’t matter how many I tackled every day, more kept coming. I was wasting hours every day deleting junk emails and replying to unimportant stuff while the messages that really mattered were buried somewhere deep into this mess. Sometimes, I’d see them when it was too late. *Sighs*
I had no idea how to deal with the monster my inbox had become until I read something that hit me hard: “an email is another people’s agenda.” Unfortunately, I don’t remember where I read it or who said it but this statement shook me. I didn’t ask for all these emails in my inbox. Even if I had signed up for an email newsletter, I certainly didn’t expect to receive an email every day.
Sure, sometimes I would be the one sending an email. But, more often than not, it was other people contacting me with THEIR requests, THEIR questions, THEIR tasks. When I realised this, it was like a weight lifted off my shoulders. I finally gave myself permission to unsubscribe from many newsletters, turn off notifications and reply to every other emails in my OWN time.
Here are the 7 smart tricks I used to tackle my emails and get to inbox zero every day:
Unsubscribe. From Everything.
If you’re anything like me, you subscribe to every email newsletter just so you can get the freebie (and then never even open or read it… ahem…) or be the first to know when your fave online shop has another sale. Before you know it, you’re receiving 2000 emails a day. Your phone keeps buzzing every 3 seconds. You’ve lost all hopes of ever reading them all.
There’s a simple solution: unsubscribe. From everything. Ok, maybe not everything. But I guess that you bin most of your emails before even opening them. Well, open them now so you can unsubscribe (yes, even from my newsletter if you don’t like what I send you). What’s the point of having an inbox full of emails you never read?
If this is too drastic for you, use Sanebox. I discovered the app through Ramit Sethi and it was a total game-changer. My fave feature is SaneBlackHole. When I receive a newsletter or other email I’m not interested in, I move it into the SaneBlackHole folder. All future emails from that sender will automatically be added to the folder. You’ll never see those emails in your inbox again. It’s like throwing an email in the bin before it has even reached you. But if in the future you change your mind and decide that you would indeed like to receive emails from that person, then you just have to change the settings. All future emails will go straight to your inbox without you having to subscribe again. Genius!
Turn Off Notifications
I’ve unsubscribed even from Instagram and Facebook (and all social media) notifications. They’re just spam. But if that’s too drastic for you, at least turn off notifications. That ding you get every five minutes is only going to distract you from what’s truly important. I mean, do you really need to know that your BFF is eating sushi while you’re working on an important presentation? Finish the work and then give her a call to find out how her day went. You’ll get more done and develop a deeper friendship to boot.
I used to deal with my emails whenever I had a free moment. Five minutes here, five minutes there. I thought the more time I can carve out for emails, the sooner I’d hit inbox zero. Instead those emails were piling up faster than ever and I had no time to deal with the real important stuff. These days, I schedule it. I check emails a couple of times a day, usually around 10:00 am and 04:00 pm. I put it in my calendar so I won’t forget! The first few times I was afraid I’d miss something important but that NEVER happened. Turns out, emails are rarely urgent.
You Don’t Need To Reply To Everyone
There, I said it. I know some of you will frown upon me and think it’s unprofessional not to reply to every email even if it’s just to say, “sorry not interested”. But some emails just don’t deserve a response. Not even a canned one. If someone starts an email with, “Hey blogger” or asks me if I could please promote their product and then goes on to list a huge series of requirements I have to comply with, all without getting paid a penny, I just hit the delete button. You may not be a blogger yourself but if you receive emails you deem offensive or just rude, don’t hesitate to thrash them. Remember, you don’t owe anyone a reply.
Put Together Some Canned Responses
If lots of people are bombarding you with emails about the same questions/requests/subjects, it’s time to put together some canned responses. “Sorry, but I don’t accept guests posts.” “Sorry but we don’t offer this type of service.” “Sure, here’s the FAQs page with the answer to your question. Very impersonal, I know, but then again, who has the time to write a personalised response to every email? You wouldn’t do anything else.
Clean Up Your Inbox
By this point, the amount of emails you receive should be cut in half – or more (it’s incredible how much junk mail finds its way into our inboxes these days). Now, every time you get an email, decide immediately what you’re gonna do with it:
- Reply immediately: if the email requires a quick reply you can write in under 5 minutes, do it straight away.
- File it away: whenever I get a new comment on the blog or an email from a reader, I file them into a special folder on my computer. Then, once a week, I reply to them all. Batching is a time-saver! (And nope, I’ve never gotten a complaint about this).
- Postpone it: if someone asks me for an interview or wants me to be part of a project I’m interested in but doesn’t require me to reply straight away, then I’ll fold it away for another day. Sanebox, the same app I use to get rid of unwanted newsletters, also has special folders called “SaneTomorrow” and “SaneNextWeek”. Everything you put in the “SaneTomorrow” box will disappear from your inbox now and magically appear again tomorrow. “SaneNextWeek” does the same thing but buys you a week of time instead.
Do The Frogs First
If you’ve been reading this blog for a while now, you know I always recommend you do the things that move the needle forward first. When it comes to emails, this means replying to the important stuff, like a project you’re working on, a message from a PR you contacted or anything else that’s urgent.
Sanebox came to my rescue here too. It has a special folder called “SaneLater” where it automatically stores the less important emails, like all the newsletters you genuinely like to keep and email notifications (if you’ve decided to keep them). The rest of the emails – from your boss, your freelancing clients, your BFF and anyone else that matters to your and your business, stays in your primary inbox for you to deal with asap.
Over to you, now. How do you deal with the many emails you get and achieve inbox zero? Share your tricks in the comments below.