Raise your hand if you’re drowning in email?!
I feel like we all are, myself included. In fact, when people show me the amount of unread emails they have on their phones, it’s frightening! Last week, a girlfriend who runs a very successful company showed me hers and it was upward of 40k. 40 THOUSAND!
It seems like all it takes is one or two days off of email to fall behind. And from there it just continues spiraling. I recently had over 4k unread emails which had been piling up over weeks and it was a source of anxiety every waking day. Tired of the stress, I knew I needed to get out from underneath it. Here’s how I went from 4k unread emails to 25:
1. Carve out time
I blocked out time on my calendar in which I solely dedicated to my inbox. Carving out this time is going to look a whole lot different depending on your schedule/inbox clutter. It may be one hour a day for 10 days, 5 hours a day for 3 days, 8 hours for one full day, etc. The point is, block out the time that truly works for your schedule and inbox needs. Otherwise it won’t get done.
I personally did 4-hour blocks two days in a row (a total of one work day). Major key: leave your phone in a different room so you don’t misappropriate the time by easily falling off task.
2. “Mark as read” in bulk by starting at the end of your inbox
To whittle down your unread email number, start at the very end. Why? Those emails are probably not relevant anymore which gives you a chance to “mark as read” in bulk.
Start by clicking through to the very end of your inbox, select all, then scroll through unchecking any emails that still require your attention. Mark all remaining as “read” and continue moving on page by page until you get to the current date.
3. Tackle quick responses
Now that you’ve marked “as read” in bulk, handle the oldest and quickest responses first. This will move your unread number very quickly.
4. Tackle the important stuff
Now that you’ve marked read in bulk and responded to the quick/easy emails, all that you should have remaining are important emails that require your attention and thoughtful responses. This, in my opinion, is the hard part.
How you want to prioritize is up to you, but my general feeling is to respond to the oldest emails first. Whoever sent you those emails has been waiting for a response the longest.
5. Organize, label and prioritize as you go through step 3 & 4
To make your life easier going forward, take the time to organize, label, create filters and prioritize your emails. For example, I use gmail which allows you to mark important senders so that they appear in the top of your inbox – major key to not missing the important stuff. Or another example, I get a lot of recipes sent to me that I’d love to make at some point so I create a filter and label called “recipes” so that I can easily access them within just a few clicks.
6. Sign up for Unroll Me
Now that your inbox is clean and organized, it’s time to keep it that way. Solicit the help of an app or service to make this as easy as possible. I personally use unroll.me which is basically spring cleaning for your inbox.
Unroll.me does two incredible things that will make your life easier. One, it will unsubscribe you from everything you don’t want to receive/never signed up for. And two, it will roll up all the subscription emails you receive into one email which allows you to read them all at once.
This is a game-changer going forward as you will have far less emails in general.
7. Set up canned responses
If you don’t already have canned responses set up, set them up. You can create the same blurb or response for common emails. Maybe this canned response could outline the services of your business, the best way to write for your website, responses to PR pitches, the days you’re in the office, or whatever else you seem to type over and over. You can also have a canned response that apologizes for the delay to even save yourself a sentence each email when cleaning things up. A sentence might not seem like much, but type it 200 times and it adds up!
Last but not least, stay on top of it going forward! Try your best not to fall too far behind. Hope this helps, and if you have any other tips, please share them in the comments.