How to Process Your Inbox and Free Up More Time | (Photo of a desk)

Simplify your inbox and simplify your life

Despite the amazing benefits of email, addressing the inbox can feel like a never-ending task. Multiple unanswered emails can make us feel overwhelmed, especially when we have important deadlines to meet. When we fail to keep on top of things, the emails seem to multiply causing further unease. There are a few effective ways to manage and process your inbox to make your life a little easier. If you have one or more inboxes, managing them in a systematic way will support you and your work. Here’s one example you could try:

How to process your inbox..

Schedule times to process your inbox

Plan regular times to tackle your inbox and stick to them. This could be as little as once a day or as often as every hour. Processing emails in batches is super-efficient and you may even find you enjoy the process a little more! It’s wise to keep your email accounts closed while you’re working on other things to avoid distraction.

Process and clear your inbox

View the inbox as simply a holding area for the emails you haven’t read. Once they have been processed, they can be deleted or filed. To do this you may wish to create some folders, for example, pending and archive. I have one pending file plus one file for each project I’m working on. Do what works best for you.

Emails can be processed as follows..

1. Forward, delete or junk

Many emails can be deleted, marked as junk/spam or forwarded to the person or people they apply to. If you receive a lot of unnecessary emails or are copied into conversations that don’t apply, then move swiftly through these actions, deleting or filing each email as you work your way down the list. This is my favourite action because it removes a lot of emails at once.

2. Unsubscribe, unsubscribe, unsubscribe!

Consider every notification, invitation, newsletter etc. that arrives in your inbox and decide if it adds value to your life. If it doesn’t, simply take a moment to unsubscribe from the mailing list. It’s worth taking the time to do this – your future self will thank you!

3. Short response

Many emails only require a short response, these can be immediately addressed. Once complete the email can be deleted or filed. If you receive numerous emails requiring a similar reply, it’s helpful to create some draft response templates. This will save time and enable you to quickly get to whatever you’d rather be doing!

4. Long response

A few emails will require a longer response or further information will need to be sought before a reply can be written. These emails can be moved to the pending folder for later attention. I advise scheduling a time to routinely check this folder. Once an email has been processed it can be deleted or filed.

And finally, it’s not only efficient but also kinder to keep your emails short. We’re all juggling a lot of stuff so being clear and concise will help the person receiving it and, in many cases, it will stop you receiving a lengthy reply in return! I’ve recently read that some people even write ‘no need to reply’ when they send an email that doesn’t require a response.

Processing my inboxes in this way means I don’t dip in and out throughout the day. This helps me to focus on one task at a time which is a more efficient way of working.

Further reading

How to set digital boundaries when you’re running a creative business
How to organise your schedule, surroundings and digital life
Simple digital habits that support my life and work

Thank you, as always, for stopping by. I hope you have a productive day!

Parts of this text originally appeared in Breathe, issue 2.