Since starting Quasar Cowboy Consulting two years ago, I’ve received 61,390 emails! Let that sink in: that’s one email every eight minutes. That’s a bit unbelievable, but it’s true and I’m sure I’m not the only one. By learning to better manage emails with some common sense and a few rules, I am no longer afraid of that staggering statistic.
Let’s just cut right to the chase and demystify this Inbox Unicorn, shall we? Inbox zero is an empty inbox. No messages and no, “Hey, can you do this for me quickly?” It’s the place from where you can start on your to-do list, or wrap up your day and relax. Sounds great, right? Maybe.
Many of us struggle with email management and reaching that perfect place of #InboxZero.
Inbox Zero: the coveted and revered state of email that we all want to achieve and can feel somewhat like a strange mythical creature of sorts.
For me, It’s not all about having an empty inbox. Although that’s pretty awesome, it’s more about how I manage the incoming stream of messages, if I’m using up billable time to tackle random questions and requests, and how I feel when I check email. With a little bit of reflection, a few changes in habits and some tools, I can get to an organized, stress-free email management system.
It is OK to NOT be at Inbox Zero. There, you have permission to not feel guilty, stay late to clean up your inbox or always have all of your email under control.
I simply don’t care about getting to Inbox Zero. I would much rather focus that one to three hours per day that people spend focusing on email and email management and pour that energy into my business and the projects I work on for clients. Don’t get me wrong, email is important to me and a necessary tool for working in this age of instant communication, but at the same time, email will not rule my day.
You are in control. Controlling an out-of-control inbox may or may not help you get to the glory of Inbox Zero, but it will help you plan and manage the day without losing focus on your most important action items. Wrangling an overloaded inbox may seem like an incredibly daunting task, but it’s pretty easy with the help of a few tools and tips.
My favorite tools for managing my inbox:
- Mailstrom – If you’ve got lots of unread emails and aren’t sure what to do with them, Mailstrom has you covered. In just a very few clicks, you can organize, group, filter, archive or delete long forgotten messages in your inbox. A nice feature of Mailstrom is “Expire,” which allows you to remove selected emails from your inbox after a specified period, so you can prioritize what stays in your inbox and when it’s time for that message to move on.
- SaneBox – An inbox prioritizer, sorter, email snoozer and more. SaneBox is similar to Mailstrom, but with a few different features and user interface. SaneBox is a better tool than Mailstrom If you delegate emails. It includes an Executive Assistant Access tool, which allows your assistant to receive a SaneBox Digest that they can sort for you.
- Slack – Slack is a complete game changer for communications. Did you know that you could send emails to Slack? Or, that you can use Astro, which allows you to manage your inbox directly in Slack. That means replying, snoozing, starring and archiving entirely outside of your inbox. You can also create project channels for multiple people on a single project to communicate. Slack is more fluid, allowing you to communicate, deliver files, assign tasks and organize your thoughts.
Besides these and other tools, there are some things that you can do RIGHT NOW without learning a whole new piece of software to “control” your out of control inbox:
Get to know Gmail and Outlook filters and rules. With a minimal learning curve and about 30 minutes of set up, you can supercharge your Gmail settings to do a lot of work for you! For example, you can set up a specific sender to auto-archive and come in with a label. This way, they won’t even reach your inbox, and you can check that email when you’re ready!
Stop checking email all the time. No, really. Stop checking email all day long. If you’re checking email more than three times per day, why? Don’t let your inbox plan the day for you. It’s merely a communication tool, not your boss. You don’t have to keep it open all day just to know what’s coming next. Checking and taking action on emails one to three times max per day is plenty.
Don’t forget extensions. There are **literally** hundreds of Chrome and Firefox extensions to help you organize, manage, color code, label, file, alert, snooze and schedule emails. Just go to the webstore for your browser and type in Gmail, and you will begin to see a whole new world of email management tools at your fingertips.
If it is important and you miss it, it will come back around. Remember, email is like a Facebook feed – if it’s that important, it’ll come back around to you. And, to all of those people asking, “Did you get my email?” Well, yes, and you’ll get back to them the next time you’ve scheduled email time. For now, you’re going to put all of your focus on your next meeting with your next client.