Sending Sanity: How to Organize Your Inbox to Be More Productive

Business.com / Work Life / Last Modified: February 22, 2017

Contrary to popular belief, the inbox can be tamed with much ease. There are a lot of practical ways to streamline your email experience.

According to a survey by AtTask, U.S. employees at large-sized companies spent 14 percent of their work week on email.

Even though email has been around for decades, managing it is a daily struggle for many people.

Managing your inbox is a time-hogging task, and it can deviate you from getting your actual work done.

But, contrary to popular belief, the inbox can be tamed with much ease.

There are a lot of practical and proven ways to streamline your email experience.

Dedicate a little time to learning and executing these practices, and you will be able to turn it from a productivity-sucking monster to your friendly neighborhood superhero.

Related Article: 7 Apps to Make Email Usage Safer, Better and More Powerful

Here are a few tips to help you streamline your inbox experience.

1. Unsubscribe from Junk Mail

If you have finally decided to de-clutter your inbox, this is the first thing that you should do.

Remove yourself from the mailing lists of websites that keep sending you junk/unwanted content.

Be strict about this. If you don’t find a particular sender useful or irrelevant, they have to go. Ensure that your inbox consists of only useful, relevant and important stuff.

If you don’t, your efforts to organize your inbox will be similar to filling water in a leaky bowl.

What can you do?

  • You can do this manually by clicking on unsubscribe button, which will appear at the bottom of the email.
  • You can also employ various auto-unsubscribe plugins, which will help you identify, and unsubscribe from all the subscriptions that you have signed up for.
  • Plugins like Unroll.me allows you to consolidate newsletters into one roll-up, and receive at the time of your liking. This can significantly reduce the number of emails coming to your inbox.

2. Stop Using Complex Folder Structures

Folders are quite often mentioned as a way to organize your inbox. But, at present, with enhanced search capabilities, complex folder structures look like more of a hassle.

According to a study by University of California Santa Cruz, people who use folders regularly spent 10 percent of their total email time arranging mail to respective folders.

The study also says that a folder-using person takes an average of 59 seconds to find what they were looking for, whereas, a search-using person takes only 17 seconds.

Even if you have a complex email organizational system, chances are searching through your inbox is way faster than sorting your email.

The rule of thumb should be to stop using folders altogether. A better solution is to start using labels instead.

3. Make Use of Enhanced Search Capabilities

One of the most time-consuming inbox activities is trying to find a particular email when you need it. You may have to do a little digging, going through folders and labels, which could take a bit of time.

Instead, you can use this guide to Gmail's advanced search features for finding almost any type of email easily through the search text field.

Related Article: Inbox Intervention: Tips And Tools for Making Email More Manageable

4. Adopt a Five-Sentence Rule

“Less than five sentences is often abrupt and rude, more than five sentences wastes time” - Guy Kawasaki.

If you get a lot of emails every day, finding time to reply to all of them may be impossible. The way out is the five sentence rule.

Ensure that your response does not exceed five sentences, keep it clear and concise, no fluff. In case you need to send a longer response, just schedule a call with that person.

Some people may take offense at the length of your response. To avoid that, you could mention in the signature that you follow the five-sentence rule.

You could add a link to this website, which explains why you follow this particular rule.

5. One-Click Rule

The logic behind the one-click rule is that you should always open an email with the intention of doing something about it; either reply/forward, snooze, archive or delete.

If a new email comes in, and you don’t have the energy/time/mood to do anything about it, don’t open it. It will be just a waste of time.

If your inbox is buried in unread emails, try snoozing them, i.e, schedule their re-delivery at more convenient times. You can also schedule when a particular email has to be sent.

6. Different Signatures

You may use your email to communicate with your prospects, customers, colleagues, investors and friends.

The needs and demands of each of those categories are different, and using the same signature is not the best of practices.

Keeping different email signatures for each category will help you save the time and energy when you are composing or responding to emails. Here’s how to do it with Gmail and Outlook.

In addition to that, plugins like Wisestamp also offer the same feature.

7. Don’t Waste Time Typing Every Response

Situations may arise where you will have to write the same email responses repeatedly, say an answer to a particular customer query or a reply to guest post requests, etc.

Many of these emails are very similar in nature and basically, ask the same question over and over again.

Typing out responses for each of these mail can be a real drag. But don’t worry. Canned responses make it easier for you to deal with such situations.

It allows you to save such response, which could be used as a template for future use. This saves you time and energy, and ensures consistency.

Here is how to use Gmail’s canned responses feature. Outlook has a similar feature called Quick Parts, here is quick video guide on how to use it.

Related Article: You've Got Mail: 13 Time-Saving Email Hacks for the Entrepreneur

8. Use Labels and Filters

Setting up labels and filters can help skyrocket your email productivity. Using them means you won’t have to manually sort anything anymore. Once you have set it up, it will automatically send your email to where it should go.

Here is a guide on how to use labels and filters to manage your inbox more efficiently.

Hiver, a Gmail plugin lets you share emails with other people also, by adding a shared Gmail label. This could be used for assigning tasks, delegating emails, and tracking their status.

These tips will certainly go a long way in whipping your inbox into shape. In addition to these, you can always assign a particular time during the day for checking and processing your email.

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