When I think about where I spend most of my days, it’s definitely my inbox. It’s not the most exciting place to be, but I’ve dedicated time to finding ways to make my energy spent there effective—so that I have time for things more enjoyable (aka walking my dog, making dinners, binging on Netflix). Since most careers and lifestyles require the use of email, I wanted to share 5 of my tips for handling it. Hopefully these help to make your inbox less overwhelming and your time spent there less in general.
1. Schedule Sessions
I’m about to sound dramatic, but this tip has changed my life. I used to keep an email tab open 24/7 and basically read and respond instantly—even if I was in the middle of something else. Then I learned how long it takes to get your focus back and the problems with multi-tasking. Now, I schedule 3-4 times a day when I check my inbox (before I start working, before lunch, as I wrap up the day, then once around 7 p.m.). This lets me focus solely on responding and I can get through everything at once. If you have an extremely pressing project or email you’re waiting for, offer your phone number.
2. Open Once
This is a hard habit to break, but opening and reading an email to only deal with it later is a waste of time and energy. You don’t necessarily have to act on that email right away, but you do need to decide where it belongs (more on this next). Once you open something, categorize it or send it to your trash. In the same vein, don’t open something until you have time to categorize it.
Here’s the system I use in Gmail: folders, stars, trash.
Folders: An email I want to save or refer back to someday, but don’t need to act on.
Stars: An email I need to act on.
Trash: Neither of the above.
I have folders for all sorts of projects, and I personally like to be specific so that it’s easy for me to find something. Examples: Travel, Shopping, Blog Posts, Collaborations, Photography, Freelance finances, Personal finances. Every few months, I go through my folders and delete old or useless items.
Star wise, I like seeing exactly what I need to do. I use the stars as my to-do list to some extent, and since these emails stay on the homepage of my inbox, they don’t get lost in folders.
One of the best things you can do for your well-being is unsubscribing from junk mail. As soon as you get an email from a company that you don’t want to see more of, unsubscribe then trash it. Set a weekly alarm to do this. It’s perfect for a Friday afternoon when your brain is tired and you can go on auto-pilot.
5. Give Yourself Breaks
I’m admittedly pretty attached to my inbox, but I’m making it a habit to skip it on the weekends and right before bed. Both times can be stressful, and stepping away from it gives your mind the time required to recharge. Like I mentioned earlier, anything pressing should be handled by a phone call, but keep your nighttime routine and weekends as sacred as possible.
I promise that following these 5 easy tips will lead to an inbox and state of mind that feels much better. Do you have any other tips that I should try?