Manage your inbox – manage your life.

Are you one of those “check your email every 5 seconds” kind of people? One of those “stressed out, buried up to your neck, not getting any work done because of all the incoming messages” types?

Well, you aren’t alone.

Plenty of people out there are more or less addicted to their email inboxes. They’ve trained themselves to keep an eye on it all day every day, and because of it, they don’t really keep an eye on much else. Sound familiar?

Especially for those of us who work in digital media, communicate regularly with clients, or just spend way to much time staring at computer screens, that specter of the inbox is always looming just a tab away. We’re steeped in this world of instant communication, and part of that makes us think we need to be constantly available – usually to the detriment of our productivity.

Not only do lots of people “over check” their email, but they also get caught up in responding immediately, getting lost in the clutter, making themselves appear way too available, and tackling tasks in a disorganized way.

We won’t go into too much detail about this horrible cycle of checking an email, responding to it (or doing what it asks you to), and putting off the things already on your to do list. We’re going to assume you’re already familiar with that unproductive rabbit hole.

Instead, let’s talk about ways to fight back and learn to manage our inboxes! 

Apps

There are some fantastic productivity type applications and add-ons that can help you escape you manage your inbox more efficiently. One great one is called Boomerang, a Gmail add-on that allows you to essentially “resend” yourself the emails you receive. Imagine you’ve got an email that you need to address but you’re in the middle of an important task that should be finished before responding. You can use Boomerang to make it reappear in your inbox a few hours (or even days) later!

Solutions like SaneBox, Inbox by Gmail, and others are designed to categorize and streamline the emails you receive. For some people, this helps them not get bogged down reading through the unnecessary ones.

Beyond these, apps that help you unsubscribe to promotional emails, preparing automated responses, and setting up various filters can help keep the torrent at bay.

There’s plenty of technology out there to help you; use it to your advantage!

Change Your Habits

Apps are great and all, but this email time sink really comes down to your own habits and actions. It probably won’t be easy to change, but you’ve got to start somewhere if you want to stop giving your time to the inbox gremlins.

First, just don’t check it as often! Give yourself a few times a day to check and respond to emails, and stick to that schedule. Close the tab, turn off the notifications on your phone, and try to push it out of sight a little bit. You may panic a little at first, but that’s ok – you’ll get used to it.

Next, reevaluate what you’re even using email for in the first place. Can some of it be handled with phone calls? What about in-person or through a quick Skype message? Part of the problem with inbox imprisonment is that, as we funnel all communication into that one medium, it becomes a constant stream, and we never pause to ask if email is even the best option. The phone might never ring but the inbox is always blowing up. Make a point to choose the best communication for the task at hand.

Let that soak in a moment …

Ok, now that you’re resisting your inbox a little and shifting some of the more inane emails to quick messages (and the more in depth ones to phone calls and in-person meetings), what do you do with the rest?

Even for the emails that you do have to field, you can take some steps to shave time off each interaction. Speeding up the whole process is all about clarity. Anticipate questions and address them before you have to go back and forth with your recipient. Line breaks, links, and boldface type are now your allies; use them to make important information stick out (so people don’t have to ask again and again).

This works for the emails you receive too. Only ask the questions you have to. If it’s going to take a complex answer or launch a discussion, make a phone call.

If you can change the way you use email, you can change the amount of your day it eats up.

Click here for more tips on getting things done. 

Put Your Foot Down

Sometimes the only thing left to do is face the problems head on. Do you have particularly guilty email culprits? People who send messages that are way too long or way too detailed? People who CC you on everything for no reason whatsoever? People who don’t read your messages closely and come back with questions (even though you spelled out all the info they need)?

If so, tell them. It’s as simple as that.

We’re not suggesting that you go on a tirade, screaming at your coworkers or smashing the keyboards of your worst email offenders. You can be friendly about it.

Just ask people to cut down the volume a little, ask them to stop CCing you on unnecessary or irrelevant messages, ask them to get to the point or highlight the most important information. Ask them to stop trying to maintain ongoing conversations via email. Speak up!

You can reclaim your productivity if you try; it just takes making a few moves to break the cycle of inbox madness. Use technology to your advantage, change up your personal habits, and if nothing else, just ask people to back off a little.

Today is the day to break free of your inbox!

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