Email Inbox Management Tips

Email Inbox Management Tips

On episode 44 of the Fizzle Show we shared a bit at the end about some of the inbox management practices we’ve come to love.

Below is a list of those and others that didn’t make it into the show. Share your tips in the comments.

Inbox Zero Resources

Original Inbox Zero Video (2007) — You’ve probably heard me gush enough about Merlin Mann. If not: he’s a breath of fresh air about email, expectations, technology and relationships. Watch this talk if you want to think better about email. And when you’re ready for the graduate course, try the links below the video.

Inbox Zero: Articles of faith“Second, there is no way you will ever be able to respond to — let alone read in exquisite detail — every email you ever receive for the rest of your life.”

The complete Inbox Zero articles“These links point to the orig­i­nal Inbox Zero Series that Merlin wrote for 43 Folders in 2006. They cover the skills, tools, and attitudes that can help empty your email inbox — and then keep it that way.”

Advanced: Podcast: Merlin Mann on anxiety, relationships and expectations — great conversation between Erik Fischer and Merlin Mann on some of the deeper relational issues of inboxes. I can’t overstate my love for this conversation.

Our Tips

Work in email sprints. For a while now Corbett has been working only on publishable work for the first half of the day, not allowing himself to check email until at least noon. I’ve since picked it up as well (on good days). It’s a good practice. Email is reactive. Be proactive and make stuff.

Get ruthless about what you subscribe to. Unsubscribe from as much as possible. Set your bar higher, they need to be good to be subscribed to. Unsubscribe from as much as you can to make room for what’s important. (See below.)

Your inbox is not a to do list. If an email sits in your inbox for a long time because it is supposed to remind you of something you need to do, you’re doing it wrong. Keep your task list separate from your email inbox. — One email a day to summarize all your newsletters. One of the biggest added bonuses is you learn how OK it can be to miss some notifications you used to think were important.

NOTE: I’ve been using this for less than a month. I don’t even read the emails anymore, which means I have about 80 emails a week I no longer get and no longer miss. I’m surprised how OK I am with this.

TextExpander — become aware of common responses, use them. It’s INSANE how time saving (you don’t have to think or type) and powerful (write once, use many) this can be. Awareness about common responses plus technology like this can make us MORE human, not less as we deal with a very unnatural amount of people everyday in our inboxes.

URL for Gmail Compose Page (without inbox) — That post describes a bit of my workflow, below is the actual URL you can use to open up a new compose message in GMail without seeing your inbox. How many times do you go in to write something and spend 30 minutes in triage without even thinking about it?

Sometimes filters. The real power here, as with TextExpander snippets, is to take the time to notice, to become aware of what you’re receiving, how you feel about it, what the response should be. It’s an investment of time up front to reap the rewards later. More thoughts on filters.

The Cory Doctorow vacation auto-response: “I’m on vacation until x/x/20xx. When I get back, I’m going to delete all the email that arrived while I was gone, so if this note is important, please send it to me again after that date.”

Unless I Hear Differently — Work Good & Fast With Clients & Teams — This is a little page we put together to tout the UIHD method of working with each other. Huge time saver and action-orienter. We picked it up from Chris Johnson. Watch the video for more info.

A Cheat Sheet of Every Single Gmail Keyboard Shortcut — If you use GMail, get to know the shortcuts. It will take a few weeks to get them down, but you’ll be so much faster. No need to memorize them all, just the basics: go to inbox, cursor to search bar, delete, archive, x for checkbox, etc.

Send + Archive in Gmail Labs — To keep your inbox clean, turn on the “send + archive” button in Gmail Labs. Write the email, click send, then it is out of sight until someone responds.

Boomerang for Gmail: Scheduled sending and email remindersCaleb uses Boomerang all the time. You can schedule emails to be sent later, come back into your inbox if people don’t respond in X days, and have emails boomerang back to you on a certain day when you can actually deal with it.

Treat your email inbox like a physical mailbox. You don’t go out to your mailbox box ten times a day, grab a few things from it to deal with and leave the rest sitting there. Treat your digital inboxes the same way. Open them and process them to zero at least a few times a week, if not daily.

Delete the guilt. You are NOT going to get to all this shit. Ever. You have more “people” in your inbox waiting for you than our ancestors saw in a given month. There’s something unnatural there. Tips are great, but processing through your emotions about this stuff is where the real traction happens. As Merlin says, “once you can reduce the amount of hay in your particular stack, the needles start revealing themselves like shiny little diamonds.”

What are your biggest email tips, hacks, and tricks? Share them in the comments below this post.

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  • Liudas

    Great tips for managing your inbox. It can really be a challenge to empty your inbox. You open an email, click a link and before you know it, you wasted half an hour watching videos.
    So, you need to be careful with your email inbox, if you want to be productive.

  • kimanzi constable

    Great tips, 90 emails a day is a bit overwhelming at times! Will be using these.

  • Rick Healey

    I like yesware for email tracking, templates and reminders if someone doesn’t reply. I guess you could use the text expander instead of templates and boomerang also has reminders. But You get to use it a lot more than boomerang with the free version.

    Also, while I don’t currently do this, I tried using IFTTT with Asana for a while. It created tasks in asana from an email that I starred. That way I could move the email out of my inbox.

  • jpohl

    In the past (not so good about it now), I only open my email when I want to at pre-defined times. So I would open Outlook or Gmail at 7 AM, 10AM, and 2 PM. Anything that was critical, well, people know how to use a phone. All the rest of the time, I totally closed out my email. Think I will start doing that again

  • Brandon Ratliff works amazing. And I really enjoyed hearing how ruthless the 3 of you are on email subscriptions. Even more blown away by how many people Caleb actually follows on Twitter. Commence unfollows in 3.. 2.. 1.

    My daily reads, via email alerts are now just down to Godin, Fizzle, and few select others.

    PS – Saw Merlin about 5 years ago, changed how I approached work and personal email – forever.

  • Rita Morales

    I like the idea of not checking email until after a certain time. I am new at working from home full time so getting an actual system in place is my current challenge.

  • Joey Augustin

    Great roundup Chase! Really glad you are introducing Merlin and his insights to those who may not know him. The underlying concepts apply to way more than email.

  • Brent Owens

    Great stuff! I love the tips. I can use this in my day job and blogging endeavor both!

  • Sean Gallahar

    Great tips. I don’t always start the day by checking email – works wonders for a person.

  • Sorina Dascalu

    I’ve been using for almost a year and it made wonders to my inbox. When I first started using it I was shocked how much “trash” I was receiving by email – seeing all those emails there is impressive. By now I receive around 10 emails per day in my Unroll folder and as Chase said, I’m not missing anything because they don’t get in my inbox anymore.

    Another service I used to reach inbox zero is – it is a free service that help me postpone some emails I can’t handle at the moment. For example if I receive an invoice and I decide to pay it on Monday, I use to get rid of that email from my inbox but have it back on Monday.

    • Sorina Dascalu

      Sorry I made a mistake about followup – it is not free, it has a free account for up to 20 reminders/month, but I never needed more then these.

  • Kevin Bradberry

    I like efficient email. I’m digging through the links you’ve given and noticed that Boomerang link and Send + Archive look both direct to the same URL.

    • Kevin Bradberry

      On top of that, I don’t think Send + Archive is a Lab feature any longer. Is there another way to use it?

  • Dina Lynch Eisenberg

    Gotta add Mailbox to your list. It’s tremendous at solving the. ‘ inbox as to go list’ problem.

    • Matt Haynes

      Love Mailbox. I now manage to maintain zero for two different accounts. It doesn’t handle Hotmail yet, but it does do iCloud and gmail. great tool from team dropbox…

      • Dina Lynch Eisenberg

        So glad you like it.

  • Startup Savant is phenomenal. Thanks for the roundup Chase!

  • Ryan Biddulph

    Working in sprints. Awesome! I check my gmail once a week. I sent out an auto responder message; if you need me, call me ;) Great share, tweeting!

  • Corbett


  • Matt Haynes

    Caleb, is send and archive still a feature? It doesn’t seem to be available? Is it still a function that you have Caleb

    • Matt Haynes

      Scratch that. It’s now part of the general capability and not a lab add on. Go to settings, under the general tab you will find send & archive (on/off) and Keyboard shortcuts (on/off). Boom.

  • chasereeves

    So money, dawg. D’dam i miss ur musk.

  • Erik Fisher

    I’m honored to have made the Sparkline.

    I love Mailbox, and Boomerang for Gmail.

  • TJ Fruichantie

    Great tips. I’ve used Boomerang for about a year now, can’t imagine not having it. Definitely going to check out now. Another service I use to help me with email is called ActiveInbox.

Up Next:

Email Reboot (FS044)

If you’re going to do email right in your business, you may need to start over from scratch and reset your foundation about how to use email as a tool to grow your audience the right way.

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