10 Tips To Take Control Of Your Inbox

email gmail box

Email is a major time-suck for people in most workplaces, whether they realise it or not.

Mark Suster recently declared that email is toxic. And it’s not hard to see why: our inboxes have become a suffocating reservoir of debris and to-do’s, when they’re really meant to be a tool for communication and better productivity.

“Email is killing companies,” Cameron Herold, CEO coach and founder of BackPocket COO, says adamantly.

Herold describes email as something that has become “urgent and important.”

“It’s the first thing people do when they get up… [and] the hardest thing to do is to let it go and not let it become your priority.”

Marsha Egan, author of Inbox Detox, says that it takes an individual four minutes, on average, to recover from an attention interruption. That means every time someone shifts their attention over to email, it will take four more minutes to re-focus and get into the groove of their task when they switch back to it. 

With people constantly switching back-and-forth from their inboxes, that adds up to a lot of wasted time over the course of a day.

She sums it up nicely: “You don’t need to ‘do email’; you need to do work.”

Ready for a change? With one major cleanup and a few new habits, you’ll be well on your way to a shiny new inbox and better productivity.

If you use Gmail, take advantage of the new priority inbox feature

Priority Inbox is a new automated filtering system that helps people sort through their email, keeping what's important at the top of the stack, and pushing the rest to the bottom.

When you're slammed with hundreds of emails on a daily basis, a filtering option like this very handy.

While the service is based on Google's brilliant robots doing their magic, you can train it yourself. You can manually say what's important and what's not important.

Setting up this newly released feature is easy and will save you a massive email organisation headache.

Delete everything you can

It's simple: if you don't need it, delete it. Leaving a pointless email in your inbox only wastes space -- physically and mentally.

If you've let hundreds (or thousands) of emails pile up, your first step to controlling the mess is to go through and delete, delete, delete. Be honest with yourself -- if you've let something fester unread in your inbox for months, you aren't going to read it. Delete!

Learn the two-minute rule

The famous two-minute rule, created by David Allen, author of Getting Things Done, is a lifesaver for anyone trying to reign in their email overload. His premise is simple:

Anything you can deal with in less than 2 minutes, if you're ever going to do it at all, should be done the first time you see it. It takes longer to read it, close it, open it, and read it again than it would to finish it the first time it appears.

In a heavy email environment, it would not be unusual to have at least a third of them require less than 2 minutes to dispatch.

Anything that will take longer than two minutes to deal with should be organised appropriately.

organise yourself with folders

Don't forget about your action items once you've organised them

Here's the important part: once you've sorted your action items, don't forget about them.

Make sure to put them into whatever organizational system you use, such as by setting up a timed reminder, adding the item to your to-do list, or scheduling a set time at the end of each day to deal with your urgent-action folder.

Go into your inbox with the intention of completely triaging it

Each time you open your email, plan to leave with an empty inbox, Egan suggests. Otherwise, things will start to pile up again.

Every new message should be subjected to the two-minute rule and deleted, responded to, sorted into the right folder, or added to your to-do list.

Don't allow newly-arriving email to interrupt you

Check your email a set number of times per day

Remember what email is really for

Need more productivity tips? Check out:

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