The first half of this article covered three simple steps for how to get to inbox zero—and keep it that way. Here are a few more helpful tips from digital organizer Christine Moline.
According to the 2018 Adobe Consumer Email Survey, workers spend an average of 3.1 hours a day on their email. Over a week, that’s 15.5 hours, or just under half of the total work week. Suffice to say, saving yourself time is a primary incentive to minimize digital clutter and create a simple system to manage email.
Curate your subscriptions
According to Molina, spam is a big problem that many of her clients face. At first, the task of unsubscribing from things you don’t want to receive, or don’t read anymore, can be daunting. But once you do, there will be less clutter and unwanted emails in your inbox.
One way to manage your spam is to be circumspect about who you give your email address to. Be careful when signing up for new services or newsletters, and be mindful to uncheck the box that automatically enrolls you into receiving marketing emails when you make a purchase or create a new account.
Some spam might not seem like spam. You may receive industry newsletters that you have every intention of reading, and would find beneficial if you had the time to read them, but if it’s been months, reconsider that newsletter’s importance to your life. Get rid of it..
Unroll.Me is a system that helps you unsubscribe from unwanted email lists. The system collects all the email lists you’re subscribed to, puts them in one neat place, and lets you choose which to unsubscribe from.
[Read also: Organize your life to spark joy]
Bucket your tasks
One of the major time sucks that we face today is task switching. As we all know, humans are bad multitaskers. We’re also slow at task switching. Unfortunately, getting to inbox zero is basically a lot of task switching.
As you refine your inbox management system, you’ll find that certain emails require certain “tasks” or types of response. For example, you may get five emails that are requesting time on your calendar, two that are requests for information or documents, and seven that are work from subordinates that need your approval or review.
By batching your time, you can handle each of these task types at the same time. You might choose to handle the scheduling emails right away but mark the others with a color denoting their task type for handling later in the day.
Separate business from personal or “to read”
Depending on your role or profession, you may receive personal emails in your business inbox. If you don’t, it’s very likely that you receive industry newsletters or links to articles from colleagues that you intend to read.
Part of creating an inbox system that’s functional is to separate the emails that require action from those that are less important. One option is to organize these messages into folders (or subfolders) entitled: personal and work.
Gmail helps, with its tabs. Any personal emails or newsletters should come in to a tab other than the primary inbox. This way, promotional or mass emails aren’t cluttering up your inbox when you log in. The downside of relying on tabs is that out of sight often means out of mind.
Pocket is a browser extension that lets you save webpages and links you’d like to read later. Instead of trying to sort through your inbox, you can visit Pocket when you have time to catch up on reading.
[Read also: 3 simple steps to inbox zero]
Get rid of anything asking for money
Part of the stress we feel when opening our email is due to the volume. And, honestly, it’s largely stress from unread emails that aren’t adding value to your life, as much as they might promise to.
If an email is asking for money, offering a way to spend money, or telling you about something you’re not interested in, get rid of it. Advertisements work; if they didn’t, advertisers wouldn’t use them. If you subscribe to a lot of promotional emails, unsubscribe and you just might find yourself saving money.
Beware—the time vampire!
Though your inbox may seem purely functional, it can have an affect on your productivity and your emotions.
For many of us, email is the first thing we check when we get into the office (or even before we get out of bed). Instead of letting email suck your most productive time, focus on the task you’ve set for yourself as the most important. The right time to check email is after that.
Chances are, nobody is waiting with bated breath for your response. If they were, they’d call or text or Slack or come find you in person.
“It’s important for me to focus on the work I’m doing,” said Moline. “I let my clients know that when I’m working with them, they get my full attention. To give my task my full attention, that means emails wait. When I explain that trade-off to clients, they are more than willing to wait for an email response because they know they’re getting better service.”
Focus is important. A study found that office workers took, on average, 25 minutes to refocus after being interrupted from a task, so while carving out space to reply to everything urgent is important, it’s also most productive if you don’t do it in the middle of something else.
Respond, instead of reacting
Another reason to resist checking your email first thing in the morning is that it shifts your priorities and your day becomes reactionary. Reacting to other people’s needs can add a certain level of stress and distraction to your day. Instead, take care of the first task you’ve set for yourself, and then respond to the needs of others.
Stop. Compulsively. Checking.
When you’re waiting for a friend, what’s the first thing you do? Check email or social media, right?
I know I do. After monitoring my phone usage, I found out that I opened my email app 942 times over the course of 30 days. That’s an average of 31.4 times a day—or more than once per hour. That was astonishing and pushed me to change my behavior.
Moline recommends that instead of compulsively checking email while you wait, do something constructive. "An option is to check your bank statement before meeting a friend for drinks and dinner or shopping,” she said. “It's a great way to recalibrate your mindset before spending."
Or, if you know there’s an email in your inbox that you do have time to take care of while waiting, do it. It’s okay to handle an email, but important to be aware of the habit of checking for new mail.
Email allows us to communicate with so many people and businesses throughout the course of a day—it’s as useful as it is time-consuming. Inbox zero might be a dream, but you can get close to keeping on top of your inbox if you set up a simple system and stick to it. If you do, chances are you’ll work through your email faster, and feel better as a result.