It’s not unusual to feel overwhelmed by the amount of email you receive on a daily basis—or to lament the fact that you’re never truly “done” clearing out your inbox. No matter how much you delete or how many folders you file messages away into, there will always be more email.
But that doesn’t have to be such a scary thing.
After all, email is a core element of the modern workplace for good reason. It serves a very valid purpose. The problem isn’t email itself; it’s that there’s too much of it.
Fortunately, you don’t have to accept a cluttered, disorganized inbox as the norm. There are proven tactics and tools to manage and reduce the ever-increasing volume of email that finds its way into your inbox, so you can regain control and become a master of “inbox zero.”
What’s the Deal with “Inbox Zero”?
“Inbox Zero” was coined by productivity expert Merlin Mann in 2007. Since then, people have been searching for the best approach to zero out their inbox and prevent the never-ending stream of incoming messages from overwhelming them once again.
But Mann’s philosophy isn’t about hyper-focusing on achieving an empty inbox; it’s about spending less time dealing with clutter in your inbox.
The cyclical nature of email means that we’ll never truly achieve “inbox zero”—and maybe that’s ok. The key to improving your email management strategies and to achieving a realistic version of “inbox zero” is to minimize the amount of time you spend managing your inbox, reduce stress, and improve productivity.
That is, true “inbox zero” means finding the most efficient way to take charge of your email. We put together this list of 10 tips and tools to help professionals like yourself manage your email volume more effectively.
5 Tips to Help Zero Out Your Inbox
Follow these tips to better manage your email volume, inbox organization, and get closer to inbox zero.
Tip #1: Don’t let emails collect digital dust.
Your inbox is not a filing cabinet, so you shouldn’t treat it like one. When you let emails sit unread or unattended, you’re allowing them to take up space both in your inbox and in your mind.
The longer you ignore an email, the more of a mental weight it becomes. If you procrastinate long enough, your inbox will continue to fill itself up with more and more messages. This can hurt your productivity and split your attention as your inbox becomes an ever-growing to-do list of things other people want you to do.
According to Merlin Mann’s methodology for reaching inbox zero, your inbox should be a space reserved for messages you haven’t read yet. To achieve this, every email you receive should be processed as soon as you see it in one of the following ways:
Delete: If there’s no action or response required and you don’t need to save it for future reference, delete the email!
Delegate: If a response or action is required but you’re not the best person to handle it, delegate the email to someone else by forwarding it. Then, delete it from your own inbox.
Respond: Can you respond to this email quickly? If so, send off a response as soon as you read the message.
Defer: If you need to respond but are unable to at this exact moment, you can hang onto it until a specific time.
Do: When an email requires a specific action—say, the sender asks you to schedule a meeting or file a report—do the thing immediately, if possible. Get that meeting on your calendar or submit the report ASAP. Otherwise, you’ll effectively end up doing double the work because you’ll end up re-reading the email later and then taking action.
Tip #2: Schedule email management into your day.
Do you include your email inbox as part of your regular cleaning schedule? Spring cleaning isn’t just for your home or desk drawers. Your digital space needs to be tidied up, too.
Whether or not you fully “subscribe” to Mann’s philosophy, it’s a good idea to schedule email management into your day. Literally, put it in your calendar. Depending on your schedule and the volume of email you receive on a typical day, this might be a 20-minute calendar event every afternoon or an hour at the start of your day.
In any case, give yourself a dedicated timeframe for processing, responding to, and acting on the items in your inbox. You can also use this scheduled email time as an opportunity to unsubscribe from newsletters you no longer want to receive and delete emails that are no longer needed. This form of time blocking can help you manage your day and optimize efficiency.
Here’s why it’s such a powerful tactic from a productivity perspective:
Setting a dedicated window for email management allows you to focus fully on other tasks throughout the day. It’s a lot easier to get into a “deep work” state when you don’t feel compelled to check your email.
Plus, you don’t want to get obsessed with obtaining inbox zero—especially if it means checking your email every ten minutes for new emails to process and delete.
Tip #3: If it takes less than two minutes, do it now.
This tip also builds off the original inbox zero methodology—specifically the idea that you should respond immediately whenever possible.
The concept is simple: If it’ll take less than two minutes to complete, do it now. This can be applied to anything from replying to an email to renewing a subscription to scheduling a call. In the context of email management, this means addressing emails that will take less than two minutes to reply or react to.
For example, let’s say you have a huge task list and five of those items are replying to emails. You can either tackle those first and knock down your to-do list by five or you can put them off until the rest of your tasks are done.
By taking a moment to consider which emails you can process in two minutes or less, you can potentially check off those five items from your task list in just ten minutes. That’s a productivity win in our books—especially since you can then focus on more time-intensive tasks without a massive to-do list hanging over your head.
Tip #4: Think twice before hitting subscribe.
One of the easiest ways to prevent email overload is to simply receive less. Of course, this is easier said than done. As a professional who receives tons of emails every day that are core to your job and ongoing projects, it’s not feasible to “unsubscribe” from the bulk of work-related messages that land in your email inbox.
Although email does play a central role in workplace communication, there may be more opportunities than you think to prevent your email backlog from growing. The easiest way is to think twice before subscribing to anything new. Carefully consider whether the benefit of doing so is worth the added burden on your inbox.
For example, do you really need to sign up for that newsletter? Protect your email address by giving it a second thought before handing it out to just anyone.
Additionally, if you tend to mix up personal and professional email in the same inbox, consider separating the two to make managing your professional email that much easier.
This might not seem like a great tip for those of you who are already overloaded with email, but it will prevent the problem from snowballing even further. More importantly, removing unnecessary incoming mail will allow you to catch your breath and make some headway on clearing out the backlog of unread messages already sitting in your inbox.
Tip #5: Say no to email threads.
Lengthy email chains are the bane of every knowledge worker’s existence. Even worse is getting wrapped up in a long email thread that isn’t directly relevant to you.
Have you ever been included in one of those threads to not only receive a bunch of irrelevant messages about the topic, but to also receive a series of “please remove me from this list” messages to people in the same boat as you?
If this happens, do not “reply all” requesting to be removed from the thread! Instead, you can either mute incoming messages from that thread or reply only to the initial sender asking to be left off future messages.
You should also set an example for your team by only including relevant parties in your email threads. Plus, the more people looped into any particular email thread you belong to, the more responses you’re likely to get.
Of course, these are short-term solutions for an ongoing issue. For a more sustainable resolution, encourage your team to adopt SEDNA’s intelligent communications system to eliminate an overload of email threads altogether.
Email Management Software and Tools to Help You Reach Inbox Zero
These tools will help you take control of your inbox, manage incoming email, and streamline your communication workflows.
Sometimes you can’t avoid subscribing to a few different lists. Maybe there’s a thought leader in your industry that you really love, but you don’t always have time to read their email content right away. Or maybe you want to receive update details from a software provider without clogging up your inbox.
A tool like Unroll.me can help declutter your inbox without unsubscribing from all your favourite lists. You can bundle together all non-essential email content, newsletters, and subscriptions into a single, easy to process message. No more sifting through hundreds of incoming messages or feeling guilty that you aren’t able to unsubscribe from so many lists.
Here’s how it works:
When you open an email from Unroll.me (which can be scheduled to receive daily or less frequently, depending on your preferences), all of your “rolled up” emails are visible for quick review.
From here, you can click on any specific items you want to view in full—perhaps to see if there’s a particularly interesting article in a newsletter or a high-value promotion from one of your favourite brands. You can save the emails you want (or take immediate action on them!) and then delete the rest with a single click.
Where Unroll.me helps consolidate the subscriptions you want to keep receiving, Cleanfox addresses the other half of the equation. This basic email management software helps remove unwanted subscriptions from your inbox altogether. How? By making it easier to delete emails in bulk when you’re no longer interested in a subscription.
Maybe you’ve been a longtime fan of a specific brand and subscribe to their updates and special offers. But circumstances change and those messages or updates might no longer be of interest or use to you. Instead of simply unsubscribing from future emails, Cleanfox allows you to rid your inbox of all past emails related to the subscription.
This is such an important step for anyone interested in achieving a true inbox zero. It saves you the hassle and time of manually removing threads from sources you no longer want to hear from, making it one of the best tools for lightening up your inbox.
Another way to protect the sanctity of your primary inbox is to use a separate email address (or several) for any subscriptions, free trials, or accounts that you want to register for. However, keeping track of that many addresses can quickly become an email management nightmare in its own right.
The solution? Create email aliases that link to your primary email account. To simplify this even further, you can use an email alias creator like ManyMe so you don’t wind up overloading your primary inbox or have to create and track a bunch of separate addresses manually.
It can be hard to ignore an email when you see that notification or know there’s someone waiting for a reply. But your inbox can quickly turn into another person’s to-do list for you if you aren’t mindful of setting boundaries. If you drop everything to reply to an email immediately, you’re constantly allowing yourself to be interrupted.
Boomerang is one of the best tools for getting those “unread” emails off the brain. It’s an email extension that allows you to snooze emails you’re not ready to handle just yet. To streamline your email management further, you can schedule similar emails or task-oriented messages to reappear in your inbox at a set time.
For instance, if you’re collecting input from beta testers, you could chunk all of those emails to show up at the same time at a time when you’re planning to process and respond to them. This is a great example of how email management software can help free your inbox—and your mind—from the nagging feeling that you need to read or reply to an email ASAP.
To tie this back into Merlin Mann’s tips for reaching inbox zero, Boomerang is a great solution for when you need to “defer” taking action on an email. This is perfect for emails that require an extra step—like research—before you can reply. Simply “boomerang” the email to send it back out into the ether until a later time when you’ll be able to address it.
This saves you from the buildup of incoming emails that you’re not ready for, which allows you to hone your focus on the task at hand as well as schedule a specific time to deal with incoming messages.
Of course, the only true way to maintain inbox zero is to minimize the number of emails that land in your inbox. While email certainly plays a valuable role in workplace communication, SEDNA streamlines team collaboration by allowing you to discuss projects and messages—without the endless back and forth of traditional email.
SEDNA’s intelligent communications system is email management reimagined, built with busy professionals in mind. We know you receive loads of email every day and you can’t just opt out of most of those conversations. But what if instead of getting tangled up in long, elaborate email threads, your team communicated around a particular email or topic within your inbox?
In terms of email management software, SEDNA is one of the best tools for taking back control of your inbox and ultimately breaking free of the endless email cycle. By bringing together all of your team communication into a shared workspace, you can share ideas more readily, access shared files more conveniently, and collaborate more easily.
SEDNA Represents a New Type of Email Management Software
Not everything we send and receive in our inboxes is necessary. And when there are so many messages coming through all the time, it becomes hard to sift through the fluff to pinpoint which emails are most relevant to you. This is one of the reasons using traditional email clients often leads to email fatigue, which is both detrimental to individual productivity and team communication.
Traditional email isn’t built for team communication—it’s a siloed environment that caters to one-on-one communication. But for growing teams with multiple projects on the go and a distributed workforce, silos cause major headaches and breakdowns in communication.
That’s why we created SEDNA, an intelligent communications solution that promotes clarity and collaboration. SEDNA brings together all of your messages, files, and data into one place, so your team is always fully aligned.
Want to know more about how SEDNA can help free your team from the shackles of traditional email? Read about how Glencore optimized workflows and reduced email by 95% with SEDNA—or reach out today to book your personalized demo.