3 Ways To Detox Your Inbox For 2018
I’ve proclaimed that 2018 is going to be the year I regain control over my inbox for good. I’ve attempted many times in the past to achieve that elusive “inbox zero” status, but it’s never lasted.
Like any healthy lifestyle, I know making lasting change requires completely reshaping the role email plays in my daily life. Instead of it being the tab that’s always open, full of thousands of already-read emails, I used the new year as a fresh start to implement all new systems.
[Related: Being Busy is Nothing to Brag About]
If you’re sick of email overwhelm and ready to commit to new inbox strategies that will maximize focus and efficiency, join me in taking these three steps to refresh your relationship with email for 2018.
Step 1: Trim The Fat
As a longtime Gmail user, I thought it was easy to ignore the emails that got stuck in my “promotions” and “social” tabs. But all that clutter still occupied mental space, and for what? I almost never read any of them, and realized knowing they were there just made me feel guilty for never getting around to read them.
I spent about 4 days unsubscribing manually from hundreds of email lists, many from companies I’d only once purchased something from years ago and others from organizations I love and support, but admittedly never made time to read their newsletters.
Unroll.me is an app that can help you do this much faster if you’re comfortable with automating your unsubscribes, but I found the manual exercise illuminating. It helped me get real with myself about all I was missing and what I was actually going to commit to reading on the regular.
I also went through all my social media account settings and reduced the email alerts I receive. I log into my social media accounts to see who’s commenting and liking my stuff directly, so there’s no need for an additional ping in my inbox.
Once I eliminated and unsubscribed from promotional/social emails from the past few months, I deleted everything in those two tabs of my inbox - thousands of emails I was never going to get around to reading. Do you risk missing some important email from ages ago that were accidentally mis-labeled and wound up in the social or promotions tabs? In theory, yes. But to me, that risk was well worth getting that enormous weight off my inbox and mind.
Step 2: Adopt A New Regimen
Since the new year, I’ve stuck with a few new rules around email that are working like a charm.
The first new rule is “only touch it once.” If I open the email, I’ve committed myself to dealing with it right then and there. If I can’t, I don’t open it. No more half-reading an email on my phone only to mark it as “unread” so I’ll remember to open it and deal with it again later.
The second is “close the tab.” It’s been second-nature to always have my inbox open in a tab in whatever browser I’m working in throughout the course of my day. Because my work is research and writing-heavy, I’m almost always in a browser, so I developed the bad habit of always having my email inbox within view. Now when I’m done dealing with email and ready to navigate away from it, I close the tab. It’s helped me focus fully on the work at hand instead of always having one eye on my inbox.
Finally, I’m adopting a strategy to “start and end with email.” One of the first things I do each workday is clear the decks in my inbox. Then, I’m off to the races for the rest of the day, perhaps in meetings, creating new content, traveling, speaking, or researching. Will I pop into my inbox throughout the day a few times? Yes. But I know that I don’t need to do a thorough, deep sweep again until the end of the day. Once that’s done, my working day is over.
These new rules seem small but I had to remind myself over and over as I mindlessly started falling back on old habits. The good news? These micro-adjustments are paying off, and now my new regimen is starting to feel like second nature.
[Related: 9 Ways to Transcend Email Paralysis]
Step 3: Try A Whole New System
It’s designed to help you spend less time with email and has a knack for displaying the most important information from your emails (like flight details, shipping confirmation numbers, and photo attachments) right in the inbox view, sparing you unneeded clicking and scrolling. Their email search function is smarter and more intuitive, you can “pin” important emails to the top of your Inbox with a single click, and and you can even choose to “snooze” emails that you don’t want to deal with until later.
I love that Inbox allows you to mark emails as “Done” instead of just deleting/archiving them. It’s seems more psychologically gratifying and relieving to know they’re still there and searchable, but they don’t need to occupy that precious real estate in your inbox.
My favorite feature? The ease with which you can archive a whole bundle of emails at once. See a whole batch of promotional emails bundled together? They can be gone in a single swipe once I scan for anything important.
I haven’t fully left Gmail behind, as I still like to have Gchat available in my Gmail inbox. But I’ve almost completely converted to using Inbox on my mobile device. It’s so much easier to scan, browse, and sweep through my inbox with the Inbox mobile app than Gmail or Apple's mail app.
No matter what platform you’re using for email, I highly recommend experimenting with something new as you make inbox management a priority this year. We’re creatures of habit and are strongly biased towards sticking with the status quo. But we often overestimate switching costs and underestimate the potential rewards that can come with a little experimentation. It’s why changing even small parts of our routine can be so hard. Challenging yourself to see if something better is out there for your email management in 2018 may be well worth the effort.
How are you getting a handle on your email this year? What email hacks have you found worthwhile? What other recommendations do you have that I should try?
Emilie Aries is the Founder & CEO of Bossed Up, an innovative personal and professional training organization that helps women craft sustainable careers. She's also the Co-Host of the Stuff Mom Never Told You Podcast.
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