Email Inbox Management Tips

Written by Chase Reeves

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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