I did a quick survey of our office/pastoral staff to see how many unread emails were in their inbox.  The answers ranged from 0 to 21,000.  I am confident you land somewhere in between. (And I’m confident you want to know how someone could have 21,000 unread emails. We’ll get to that.)  Coming from the 5 (unread emails) and under club, I present seven tips to tame your inbox.

  1. Set up filters.  If you receive automated emails that you don’t necessarily need to see, set up filters.  This can be done in your email settings.  A filter will bypass your email inbox, allowing you to delete, file or delegate emails.  Not having filters is how someone can have 21,000 emails sitting in their inbox.  They might get a security notification every time a change is made on the church website, or a confirmation when someone gives online. Get ahead of these types of emails before they become an avalanche.
  2. Unsubscribe from all of the “junk mail.”   Better yet, create a separate email account for all of the retailers, restaurants, and online vendors you’ve given your email address to. Their intended goal is to catch your eye and get your business, which in turn distracts you from what you are doing, which minimizes productivity. (It’s a slippery slope). Unsubscribe or keep those emails in a separate inbox and you can search when you’re looking for a coupon.
  3. Set up folders. Set up folders in your email inbox for different projects, staff members, and/or events.  Then, you can open the folder and have everything you need for each project/person. Keeping emails grouped in folders is another excellent way to save yourself time preparing for meetings and project planning.
  4. Create a “waiting for” space. Create an additional  folder called “Waiting For”. (You can add a hashtag or @ symbol in front of the title to bump this folder to the top of your list.) This is the space to store emails like your purchase confirmations and tracking number emails.  It doesn’t necessarily need to stay in your inbox, but you don’t want to get rid of it until you have received your package.  This is also the space for the email threads where you are waiting for action from another person. Just make sure to set up a weekly or monthly notification to clean this folder out.
  5. Use Boomerang. Boomerang is an email scheduler that is available for Gmail, Outlook, and Mobile (Android or iOS devices).  You can schedule emails to send at optimal times, snooze messages, get read receipts, and follow up reminders if someone doesn’t respond to your email.  Consider using the “pause inbox” feature during your study times, or when you need to remain distraction free.
  6. Check your inbox at specific times of the day. Schedule yourself specific times to check your email. Check your email first thing in the morning to make a plan for the day, and perhaps mid afternoon to make sure you didn’t miss anything.  While having email notifications set up on our phones may be convenient, it may be unintentionally sabotaging your productivity.  By not scheduling intentional time to check your email, a “read” message may sit buried in your inbox because you read it on your phone, but did not have the ability to respond at the time. Give yourself permission and grace to not have to read and respond to emails as soon as you receive them.  If you don’t, you risk becoming a slave to your inbox and increasing your chance of dropping the ball.
  7. Think of your inbox as triage and not a graveyard. When you check your email at the designated time, decide what you’re going to do with it right then. Do you need to do it, delegate it, or delete it?  Don’t let your emails go to die in your inbox. If you are done with an email, but think you might still need it later, archive it.  It will be stored in your email history, but not taking up space in your inbox. A clean inbox feels like a clean house.  It feels fresh, smells good and is motivating to a weary soul. The smell part might be a stretch for your email inbox, but light a candle and the overall point remains.  A full and disorganized inbox will keep you feeling panicked that you’re missing something.  A good rule of thumb is to think about emails as physical pieces of paper. When you check your physical mail, you immediately throw away your junk mail.  You take action on the important and time sensitive pieces of mail. You file the important documents you need to keep.  If you didn’t, you would be buried in piles.  Whether you realize it or not, you can be buried under piles in your email inbox.

*Bonus tip*.  If you are past a manageable inbox plan, you might consider using an email cleaning service like “Clean Email”.  You will be able to mass unsubscribe and delete emails that are 5 years old or older along with many other features.

Try one of these tips each day for the next week.  Taming your inbox doesn’t have to seem impossible. It is just a matter of making a few small changes, building some habits, and keeping yourself organized and productive.