More time for what matters.
How do you organize all the different aspects of your life? Let’s face it, between work, family, friends, and personal projects, we’ve all got a lot of balls in the air these days. We love uncovering the secrets and systems behind how the people who seemingly “do it all” really get it all done. And when you drill a little deeper, one of the inquiries we’re all probably curious about is, “How do you organize your email inbox?”
Our inboxes are both a place for productivity and a never-ending hyperloop of communications begging for our attention. The moment you’ve replied to the emails on your list, you get about 30 seconds of satisfaction before the responses start coming in, and the process starts again. However, I’ve learned from experience that email does not have to be a joy-sucking part of my day or a source of endless distraction. Instead of another long list of productivity tips, what we really need is a system. One that can bend and flex depending on our personal needs and our season of life, and that allows us to stay on top of email without becoming its servant. Because when we’re spending less time on our email, we’ve got more time for all the things we actually want to be doing.
So, today we’re sharing the tried-and-true system that we use to rule out our daily inbox. Once you fully implemented these steps, the time you spent on your email each day will be quickly cut in half. Scroll on for our list, and we’d love to hear in the comments if you have any email hacks of your own to share.
First, be aware of your own email habits.
Are you one of those people who were constantly checking your inbox? Your notifications were on, and when you heard that familiar “ding” (the one that’s at once exciting and stress-inducing) you’d immediately swipe through to see what had landed. The result? You would be multitasking and it’ll be difficult for you to pay attention and focus properly. You’ll never be fully present with the people you were with. They probably will often have to repeat themselves once or twice before you snapped out of whatever thoughts were swarming in my head. And what do we hate the most? Repeating ourselves.
When you realize you’re letting email bleed into other parts of your life, you were missing out on those small but important moments with the people you are with, and that giving them your full attention communicates how much you value them. But don’t worry, Messycafe’s got your back and we’ve found a way to help you get out of your inbox and back into the moment.
Setup your inbox to work for you.
For Apple users, you can use the Mail app for both your business email (Gmail) and your personal email (iCloud.) That way, you have the flexibility to view just your work email which you likely will check during the workday or just your personal email when you’re on vacation, or you can have them all filter into one inbox to view them together.
Next, you can sort the messages into your inbox so you can take action on each one at the appropriate time.
This is about boundary-setting: if you respond to every email right when it comes in, you may appear to be highly efficient. However, it’s an easy way to fall into the trap of responding to everyone else’s needs without ever making traction on your top priorities.
Instead of responding to everything immediately, use the flag system in your Mail app to mark what messages need a response, and when.
Here’s what this looks like in action:
- Every email that needs a response or an action item (like paying an invoice) gets flagged.
- Red flags mark an email that need to be answered that day. At the end of the workday, you can scan your inbox and make sure your red flags are removed.
- Yellow flags mark an email that need to be responded to but that’s not super time sensitive.
- Green flags mark accounting-related emails, an invoice that needs to be paid or sent, a vendor that needs to be setup, etc.
- Purple flags mark things that needs to be read. This can be your “fun stuff,” thoughtful newsletters you want to dive into, interesting articles, inspiring quotes that you’ve emailed to yourself. When you have some time to slow down and absorb something new, go straight to the purple flags.
The beauty of this system is that I’m never worried about forgetting to respond to an important email, but also giving yourself the space to see an email, walk away and let it marinate, and come back to respond at the right time.
Become an active unsubscriber.
Raise your hand if, instead of unsubscribing to all the promotional emails that you don’t really want to be on, you just scroll past (or delete) the messages because it’s faster in the moment? You might think that but if you don’t unsubscribe, they will keep coming and you’ve got to delete them all over again. So, why not just unsubscribe to keep them from ever coming back? It may take some time but it’ll be worth it when your emails aren’t clogged up with unnecessary spams.
You can use unroll.me to pull up all the lists that your Gmail account was on. Then, you can walk through their simple process of unsubscribing from all the ones you don’t want to be on anymore. It should take you about 20 minutes start to finish, and allowing you to stay on all the lists where you actually want to receive emails. Like, the Messycafe newsletters, for example.
However, unroll.me doesn’t currently support iCloud mail. But you can use a similar service called Cleanfox that will pull up all your subscriptions on your iOS device.
Now, all of the emails that make it into your inbox are ones you are actually interested in. Feels revolutionary, right? It’s also nice to not wake up in the morning with a mountain of promotional emails that have to sort through to get to the ones you really need to read.
How to time batch email.
If you’re writing, you just write. If you’re playing with your kids, you’re not also checking your phone. Emails are grouped into blocks of the day too so that you’re not intermittently checking them and getting distracted all day long. It’s not easy, but trust us when we say that when you manage to do it, it’s revolutionary.
Time batching is a productivity strategy where you map out your schedule so that you only do one focused activity at any given time.
Time batching is based on research that shows multi-tasking is actually one of the worst things we can do for both productivity and the pursuit of creating great work. Here are the do’s and don’t’s to time batching when it comes to email:
- Do turn off your notifications. If you’re a chronic email checker whenever you have a spare moment, turning off your notifications is a great way to short circuit that impulse and help you to be more mindful of your habits. You can even take it a step further by burying your email app within another folder on your phone, so that it takes actual effort and intention to check your email throughout the day.
- Do not check email first thing in the morning. This is about being intentional with how you spend those first moments of your day.
- Do check your email around 9am before diving into meetings or projects. Try to dedicate about 30 minutes to answering emails from the day/night before, allowing you to clear your headspace by not spending your workday thinking about how you should be responding to someone.
- Do set a couple other times throughout the workday to dive into your inbox, usually right after lunch, and again at the end of the workday. An end-of-day inbox clearing session to knock off those emails that only require a short response, and then you’re not tempted to tackle email from bed that night.
- Do not answer every email within 24 hours. Certain email activities get time batched to a specific day of the week.
- Do try to answer emails that need a quick response in a timely fashion, not only does it clear them from my headspace, but it shows the recipient that you value them enough to shoot off a two-sentence answer that’ll help them stay on track.
Time batching emails are really all about being proactive rather than reactive. It’s asking yourself, “what is the best use for my time right now?” and then doing that thing and one thing only.
Single task your email.
This is closely related to time-batching, but it’s kind of the inverse: in the same way that we don’t want email to bleed into every other part of our lives, we also don’t want distractions bleeding into our email time. Setting up boundaries to protect this time so you can be thoughtful and efficient with your communication. When reading or writing emails, you can close the door to your office, turn off social media, and close your browser so you’re not distracted by a cute video or notification. Not only is the quality of my email better, but getting rid of distraction will allow you to plow through your inbox faster than you ever thought possible.
Remember your why.
As with any “productivity hack,” remember that the end goal isn’t just to be more efficient or produce more. In fact, this is a trap that our productivity culture has taught many of us, and when we buy into it, we’re like hamsters running on a wheel of efficiency that we can’t get off.
Ruling your email inbox is about freeing up time, energy, and headspace so that you can create space in your life for what’s really important. It’s freeing yourself from the stress of feeling like “I can never get it all done,” instead to allowing yourself to live in the present and enjoy exactly what you’re doing, in that moment.