8 proven hacks to help you get to inbox zero

Joel Svensson
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Do you ever avoid going to into your inbox because you simply lack the energy to confront that bottomless vortex of unread messages? You’re not alone; according to Psychology Today, email is one of the most common triggers of productivity-related anxiety.

But don’t worry, the situation is manageable, even if it won’t disappear overnight. Here are just a few ways you can make your inbox into a friendly place again.

Set up folders

When you’re only two options for dealing with an email are to delete it or leave it in your inbox, it can definitely feel like you’re backed into a corner. What if you need that message at some point in the future? That’s where folders come in.

Emails you might need for future reference – like account information or a particularly informative newsletter – can be lumped into a folder called ‘Reference’. You can also set up a ‘Receipts’ folder for online purchases, a ‘Travel’ folder for itineraries and hotel bookings – whatever you need, according to the patterns of your online life.

Set up rules and filters

Most email services let you set up rules to automatically sort and filter your mail, and this works particularly well to declutter your inbox down to the essentials.

If you have newsletters coming in (that you actually want to read) or regular emails from a particular address, set up a filter to divert it to a folder you can check at your leisure. (This is a great way to manage that one person that just emails you way too much without resorting to blocking them.) Other messages can be automatically sent to trash.

Schedule time for checking your email

Whether it’s 20 minutes at the start of the day, 20 minutes before COB or both, scheduling time will stop you ping-ponging between marathon mail-sorting and avoiding the problem completely.

Unsubscribe with extreme prejudice

Unwanted marketing and newsletter emails are good for nothing but driving up that ‘unread’ count. But instead of ignoring or deleting them, take a second to scroll to the bottom of the page and click ‘unsubscribe’.

The unsubscribe process is usually pretty painless, but if you really want to nuke those marketing emails, you can try Unroll.Me for mass unsubscription.

Set a limit to processing emails

If you find feeling overwhelmed by the sheer volume of emails to read and respond to, just aim to process a certain number each day. Sorting 10 emails at a time is far less intimidating than staring at that ‘2156 unread messages’ and feeling like you’ll have to cancel lunch.

Disable notification emails

Getting an email for every comment, like and retweet will clog things up faster than letting Bigfoot use your shower. Do your sanity a favour and disable email notifications for all of your social media accounts.

Prioritise

A super simple way to prioritise your messages is to sort them into three categories: Urgent, Important, and Not Important. Urgent emails are acted on right away, Important emails are marked for follow-up, and Not Important messages are either deleted or filed for reference.

You might also consider using the One Minute Rule – immediately handling anything that will take under a minute to complete. This can really help curb inbox bloat.

Out-of-work and canned responses

It might also be worth playing around with the custom settings of your inbox. If you manage a particular inbox for work with high traffic, canned responses as a first point of contact might be appropriate.

And remember, before you shut down the PC at your desk and escape into holiday bliss, set up an automated reply of your own explaining when you’ll be back. If you don’t intend to check emails while you’re on leave, let the software do the talking for you.

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