How To Manage Your Overflowing
I'm sitting here with over 700 emails in my inbox, and I've been semi-offline for just a bit over a week. Something has got to give. I understand where a large chuck of my email activity comes from: my various volunteering roles and graphic design freelancing. But the amount of "junk" email that fills up my inbox is still vastly disproportional to the important emails. And by "junk" I don't litterally mean junk, I do have a filter for those emails. By junk I mean emails that are just clutter. It needs to be seen, but it also doesn't need to swamp my inbox so much so that it keeps me from reading the really important emails. Or simply feeling overwhelmed. Do you feel my pain?
So my question is: where is all my email coming from, and how can I interact and organize it in a way that is the most productive and the least frustrating?
The answer to the where part of that question is pretty straight forward. It comes in because it can. While the significant upside of convenience that the internet has brought to our lives, an equally significant downside is the flurry of "junk" or unsolicited email that it has created. Any transaction or point of interest you incur on the web requires you to provide your email address.
To help cut down on excess emails, I am diligent about checking the little boxes on websites that ask "Do you want to receive email communication from our business or organization." Eight out of ten times I check "no." I can't imagine how many emails I would get if I checked "yes."
More suggestions on how to manage your email life:
1) Set up a second email address. This is kind of a cheat, but it's a pretty common practice I think. Set up another email address in addition to your main personal or work email. Most people use either a GMAIL or a Yahoo because it's free, has a large email box, and are easy to set up. Whenever you need to give an email address for a business or service, in person or online, just use this one and set it and forget it. It will help keep your important email from getting cluttered with junk.
2) But if you can't bear to start up an additional email address, try Rollup by Unroll.Me. Rollup is this awesome email organizing app that helps you corral and manage all those subscriptions. Once you designate an email address to include in the Rollup, automatically all future emails will be directed to that week's Rollup digest. No emails are deleted without your permission and you have the control and choice to NOT include any email into your Rollup. I use it for my GMAIL address and it has really saved me a lot of time and frustration.
3) Set up a comprehensive and detailed folder structure. For your main email accounts, whether for work or personal, or if you combine them, both, I can't stress enough, the importance of setting up a comprehensive and detailed folder structure. Every person's folder labeling is going to be very specific to how he/she works. But as a general rule, I think that every email that comes though your inbox should have a "home" folder. Somewhere it can be archived and easily accessed for future retrieval. And while this might sound crazy, you can't have too many folders/labels. As long as they serve a functional purpose, game on. For example, in total I have about 25 different folders in my email account. It makes getting to INBOX zero at the end of each day or week, SO MUCH easier.
4) Be disciplined. Which leads me to my last piece of advice on how to get to inbox zero. (And I know I'm assuming you have inbox zero as a goal. Which you may not, no judgment here) I wish I could say there was some easier way (other than someone else doing it for you) for you to manage your email, but the simple reality is that you just have to work at it in a disciplined way every single day. I know there are people who have no problem letting their inboxes balloon up to thousands of emails, some answered, some not. And it doesn't bother them one bit. But if you have read this post to this point, odds are that is not you. If you are like me, and having control of your digital life is as important as your physical life, then help set yourself up for success by establishing routines and consistent practices that force you to read and sort your email account(s) on a daily basis. Take control of your email, so it doesn't control you.
Bonus closing thoughts: A few last thoughts that I wanted to share on the topic of email life. There are a couple more small things that I think you should consider if you are struggling with an overflowing inbox and/or not enough time to get through all your emails. The first is to set an expectation for how you use email to communicate, and what people should expect from you. I see a lot of people do this in emails by putting something in their email signature like, "please excuse my brevity." What they are saying is: "don't be offended if I don't reply a long detailed response. Other things you can include in your signature is how you prefer to be contacted, (i.e. phone or text) or when you most routinely reply to email (i.e. I only check email after 9 p.m.)
But in communicating your expectations with others, you first have to be clear on what the expectations are that you have for yourself. Think consciously and ask yourself about how you want to prioritize email management in your life. The answers will determine how successful you are solving your email challenges.