5 Steps to Conquering Email Overload

Conquer email overload

If you’re like me, you can check your email, go into a meeting, and come out to find 30 new emails in your inbox. And, for me, it used to be worse.  That is, until I realized the direct correlation between the fullness of my inbox and my daily stress level.

A former boss once told me that a cluttered desk is the sign of a cluttered mind.  The same definitely goes for a cluttered inbox.

So, how can you beat email overload?  Here are five tips that have helped me in a big way.

1). Inbox Zero.

At one point last summer, I had more than 85,000 emails in my inbox.  Not kidding. So, don’t even tell me your inbox is to full to get it to zero.

What did I do?  I started deleting and archiving (and filing away in Evernote). The first 10,000 emails or so were the hardest.

Then it got easier.  And easier.  And a few hours later, I was down to zero.

I know it sounds scary.  And, yes, there were a few emails that I really shouldn’t have deleted. Overall?  It was worth it and I can’t even recall any deleted emails that caused me problems. Similar to downsizing a lifestyle or moving into a smaller house, you have to realize that, if an email (or 80,000 emails) has/have been sitting in your inbox for eight months without action — you probably don’t need it in your inbox.

Delete. Delete. Delete. Archive. Delete. Move on.

Click here to learn more about how to get to Inbox Zero.

2). The Two-Label System.

How do I keep my inbox near zero? Simple: I use Gmail and rely on two labels:

  1. Follow Up
  2. Hold

With those two labels, I focus on four — and four only — actions that can be taken with any email:

  1. Take Action — If an email can be acted upon within two minutes or less, I take that action right away and move on.
  2. Follow Up — If the email is something I can’t take action on right away, but need to follow up later in the day, I move it to the “Follow Up” label in Gmail.
  3. Hold — If the email is something for which I just need to hold (for example, I’m waiting on more information or a return email), I move it into the “Hold” label in Gmail.
  4. File — If it’s an email with information that I need for long-term, I “file” it in Evernote.

3) The Email Game.

The Email Game has changed my life.  Not kidding. It’s added a little bit of fun and competition to my email-checking. It focuses me only on the email in front of me (rather than those that keep appearing in my inbox) and allows me to get through my unopened emails quickly.

What is it? Quite simply, it is a Web site that goes into your inbox, feeds you one email at a time, and puts you on a timer.  It gives you 3 minutes to “deal with every email and awards points if you beat the buzzer.  It also shows you how much time you save each time you play.

It’s a simple concept, but a powerful one. Try it, you’ll like it.

4) Batching Emails.

I used to be someone who rolled out of bed to check my email in the morning — and didn’t stop until I went to bed.

The first email I opened in the morning would set my tone for the day, leading to a day in which my inbox controlled me — rather than the other way around.

No more.  About three months ago, I began batch-checking my emails during three points of the day:  10 a.m.; 1 p.m.; 4 p.m. I spaced the batch times based on this survey I sent out to a number of friends, co-workers and colleagues.

Thus far, it’s worked great.  After the first several weeks, clients and co-workers learned to call me in case of urgent need.

Do I cheat every now and then? Of course.  But every time I cheat, I regret it because it throws off my day.

5) Don’t Check Your Email First Thing … or Last Thing … During the Day.

Kudos to Tim Ferriss for this concept.  As I mentioned above, you want to own your day, rather than have your inbox own your day.

You should always try to get your main priorities for the day hammered out before you check your email.  That’s why my first email-check time is 10 a.m.  I start working at 8:30 and go, uninterrupted, through 10 a.m.  If any clients have any emergencies prior to 10 a.m., they give me a call.

Of course, as I post here, I think it’s vital to have some time to yourself via your Morning Ritual before you start any work in the morning.  This should occur before any work…and certainly before any email checking.

As for the evening, I don’t check email past 5 p.m.  Again, if it’s urgent, clients will call.  If not, it can wait until the next morning.  Better to wait (if you can’t do anything anyway) than to stress about it all night.

Own your mornings.  Own your evenings.

Conquer your inbox.

2 Replies to “5 Steps to Conquering Email Overload”

  1. Hi Curt-Are you able to resist checking work email on your phone in the evening? This is my Achilles heel. I check it all evening and on the weekends. Any advice on how to break this habit would be appreciated!

    1. Linda — I used to check my email at night all the time. Early mornings and late nights were the biggest problems. I just took a week of getting down the habit of batching emails. After that, it became much easier to resist the pull of the inbox. For the first two weeks, I actually would disable the mail app on my smartphone at times that weren’t scheduled batch-checking times, or before/after hours. People should learn not to rely on email for urgent requests or tasks.

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