32-36: Simplify Your Inbox

Simplify Your Inbox

Do you (like so many of us) feel the pressure to achieve “inbox zero” while that little red number-of-unread-emails alert mocks you? We have some good news: “inbox zero” is not about getting that number to zero, but rather about how little brainspace your inbox should ideally occupy. The phrase “inbox zero” originated in 2007 by productivity expert Merlin Mann, who explains it this way:

“It’s about how to reclaim your email, your atten­tion, and your life. That “zero?” It’s not how many mes­sages are in your inbox–it’s how much of your own brain is in that inbox. Especially when you don’t want it to be. That’s it.” – Merlin Mann

"Your email inbox is a to-do list created by other people." Chris Dixon, Photo by Matthew Henry

When we treat our inbox like our To Do list, our focus becomes scattered and productivity suffers. It doesn't have to be this way! Mann suggests five possible actions as you face an email: delete, delegate, respond, defer and do – learn Mann’s method here, and keep reading to find out ways our team manages the ever-growing piles of virtual mail. A man wears blue-light blocking Cooper glasses while on his laptop at a cafe

32. Take Control of Your Subscriptions

With more and more companies opting to put the good stuff in their newsletters (instead of flying past your eyeballs during an insta-scroll session), managing incoming messages could take a bit more time and attention. Instead, use Unroll to group however many subscriptions into one glorious email a day. It’s free (yay!) but they are admittedly tracking your data, so you may want to choose to opt out of data sharing in settings. You can of course choose to keep a handful of must-reads in your inbox so you don’t miss ‘em; among our faves are Noah Kalina, Eric Barker, and Ann Friedman on Fridays (paid members get access to her oh-so-relevant Pie Charts).

Not that you need a reminder, but keep unwanted emails from cluttering your inbox by unsubscribing (also an Unroll easy-button), while selecting “Update Your Preferences” or “Manage Preferences” will ensure you stay in the loop on only the good stuff you signed up for in the first place. A man works on his laptop, accompanied by a dog

33. Incoming! (and Outgoing)

Initially we loved the Gmail add-on Boomerang (also available for Outlook) for the ability to set reminders to follow up on something important, either on a certain date or when our email doesn't receive a response. Lately we’ve been using it to schedule sending that late-night idea during working hours – this way an email lands in their inbox at a reasonable time (thus supporting a healthier work culture).

To minimize distractions and increase focus, it's helpful to check your inbox only at set times throughout the day. For help with this, try Boomerang’s “Pause inbox” feature to schedule when you receive inbox messages. You can set up filters to allow vital emails to be delivered, while all of those things that can wait, well, wait.  

34. The Easy Button for Scheduling

Skip the I’m-available-on-Tuesday-what-time-are-you-available by adding a Calendly link to your signature. The free plan includes integrations like Zoom and Slack, and is plenty robust enough to handle most scheduling situations and help you halt the stream of I-can’t-meet-at-3-but-how-about-4:30 messages. A couple at home sit on the couch while she works on her laptop

35. One Place for All of the Things

Project-management software like Monday, Asana and Basecamp are an inbox godsend, corralling messages and related files into ongoing tasks, and letting you set up consolidated updates to your inbox as needed. Because while searching for a thread or attachment in your gmail is super fun, your time is better spent logging in to that one place where we all go to be productive and on the same page.

Each platform has its own strengths, from Gantt charts to time tracking, and most offer free trials – but because it takes time to familiarize yourself with a platform, it may be smart to get clear with your team on what features are nice-to-have versus what’s actually needed. A man wearing blue-light blocking Cooper glasses works on his laptop at a cafe

36. Learn Email Etiquette

If you recently hit send on a reply-all to a dozen folks to simply say “Thanks, Lou!” – now is a great time to brush up on the latest email etiquette. And this goes beyond tips like check your spelling and DON’T TYPE IN ALL CAPS… For instance: If your last email had a vague subject line and massive gif attached, take a moment to familiarize yourself with today’s inbox mores. We all benefit from treating others’ inboxes with respect, and not everyone in the thread appreciates a dancing-ron-swanson gif in response (actually, read the room on that one – rules are made to be broken).

We'll leave the final word on the subject to Cal Newport, who literally wrote the book on it – called A World Without Email:

Just because it’s possible for us to send and receive messages incessantly through our waking hours doesn’t mean that it is a sustainable way to exist. Technologies serve us best when we deploy their new efficiencies with intention, with an aim to improve the human condition. We shouldn’t banish e-mail, but we can no longer allow it to be used in such a way that guarantees our misery. –New Yorker

In lieu of misery and burnout, let's put up some inbox boundaries.

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