📧 6 Easy Ways to Take Control of Your Email
Here's a question. Is email a massive pain in the a***? If your answer is yes, do you think it's meant to be? It doesn’t have to be this way! When done right, email can be great - and I’m going to show you how.
🤩 Fear not! Help Has Arrived In Your Inbox
Email shouldn't be a huge chore. Accessing information, communicating with people - it's there to help you, on your own terms. Opening your inbox to 1,500 unread emails isn’t going to help you focus and get s*** done. When your inbox is disorganised and overflowing, it's a huge stormcloud every time you access it. Email is an extension of your digital life - keep it organised!
The thing is, it happens to the best of us all of the time. But fear not! I’ve done the hard work of taming the beast so you don’t have to. In this post, I’ll show you 6 easy and effective ways how to take control of your inbox and exercise a bit of digital minimalism in your life. Shall we?
🙀 Behold: Inbox Zero
The holy grail of email is ‘Inbox Zero’, as coined by productivity madmann Merlin Mann (no offence if you’re reading this, Merlin). Quite literally - nothing in your inbox. To achieve this, your email needs to automatically filter out the rubbish:
- Subscriptions (especially the ones you didn’t sign up for)
- Phishing emails
- Takeaway offers (don’t make healthy eating harder for yourself)
- Unsolicited work requests
- And so on…
By doing so, you have a higher chance of seeing the emails that matter at the right time and - this is the important bit - getting things done. Missed parking ticket payments, lost receipts, forgotten invites - prepare for these to be things of the past.
So, where to start?
Ideally, your email should contain anything up to around 10-15 emails that require an action. This acts as a to do list of sorts. Each email is ready for you to come back to, and they won’t get lost in the flurry of ASOS offers you’re probably receiving (it’s not just me right?)
This way, you can clearly see what needs to be handled, and work through them efficiently.
By following the following 6 steps, you can make email useful again and take control.
- 🤓 First Up: Easy Email Settings Hacks
- 🏷 Your Newest Friend: Labels
- ❌ Unsubscribe-athon
- ⏰ Snooze
- 🗓 Schedule Send
- 🙋🏻♂️ Tim Ferris’s Twice-Daily Method
Let’s get to it.
1. 🤓 First Up: Easy Email Settings Hacks
Amateur - Archiving Emails
Was that loud enough for the people at the back?
Once you’ve dealt with an email, archive it. It’ll still be there if you need to use the search function, but it’s out of your inbox. You can find it by clicking on ‘All Mail’ in the left sidebar.
Go one step further by using ‘Reply and Archive’ to remove the email from your inbox until the recipient replies. This option can be found by clicking the cog in the top right corner, followed by ‘See all settings’.
Professional - Auto Advance
Using the ‘Auto-Advance’ feature will allow you to reply/archive/snooze an email and move straight onto the next one, instead of going back to your inbox. This will prevent any distractions from G Chat, or new emails at the top of your inbox, so you can move through and deal with each email.
To do so, head back to your settings and over to ‘Advanced’, and select ‘On’ for the top option ‘Auto-Advance’.
There’s also a “Smart Reply’ feature that shows suggested replies while you write an email. It might be worth having but I don’t find it all that useful.
2. 🏷 Your Newest Friend: Labels
A quick explanation of how Gmail labels work. They’re another word for folder. Emails that enter your inbox are labeled ‘Inbox’. This means you can remove the ‘Inbox’ label, removing it from your inbox. Don’t worry - it can still be found by searching for it, or in ‘All Mail’.
You can create new labels at the side for anything and everything, from ‘Bills’ to ‘Friends’. All you need to do is drag and drop an email into each label. You can even change the colour of each one - lovely.
After you’ve sorted them, you can archive the email and remove it from your inbox. Don’t worry - it isn’t deleted. You can find this email by clicking on the label you’ve just dragged it to, by using the search function, or under ‘All Mail’.
This is a great way to organise your email and save information to easily find it later down the line. No more panicking in a queue when you can’t find your ticket!
Professional - Skip Inbox, Apply Label Filters
This is where the magic happens. To level up from the previous point, you can use a Gmail Filter for incoming emails. It automates the process of labeling emails, and skips your inbox so you can stay focused and check certain emails when you want to, rather than when they arrive.
This is great for newsletters you’ve signed up to, for example. It also means that your emails are sorted by label automatically, saving you time having to do it manually, and ensuring you will find them more easily later down the line. Much better than scrolling through your inbox.
Let’s say you’re signed up to James Clear’s brilliant 1-2-3 weekly newsletter. You don’t want this to go into your inbox and take up space. Instead, you want it to skip your inbox and go straight to your ‘Newsletters’ label where you can read it on the train home from work.
To do this, head to Settings > Filters and Blocked Addresses and select ‘Create a new filter’.
In ‘From’, add the email you want to filter. In this case it’s firstname.lastname@example.org, but you can add multiple emails seperated with a comma. Hit ‘Create Filter’.
On the following box, select ‘Skip the Inbox (Archive it), and ‘Apply the label:’. You can select an existing label or creative a new one. Finally, if needed, select ‘Also apply filter to X matching conversations’ to add any previous emails from this email address to the label. To save this, hit ‘Create filter’.
From now on, any emails you receive from this address will be found under your label of choice in the left sidebar of your inbox. It will skip your inbox and allow you to focus on the most important stuff.
Another option could be for Receipts, where you can add your go-to shops and cafes/restaurants to collect receipts. Don’t forget to add to these lists over time.
Instead of using email addresses, you can also use keywords to auto label and skip inbox incoming emails. I do this for calendar invites by adding ‘Invite’ to the keywords, and select ‘Has attachment’.
3. ❌ Unsubscribe-athon
Your inbox is yours and yours only. Don’t let marketing emails fill it up without your permission. Spend 5 minutes here and there unsubscribing from emails. Dominos offers, ASOS sales and updates from that hostel you stayed at 3 years ago.
There’s 2 main reasons to do so. Firstly - they take up space and distract you from what really matters. Secondly, most of these types of email are pushing you to buy something. So by unsubscribing, you’re technically saving money!
Be. Brutal. You’ll be amazed how enjoyable it is - and you’ll also be amazed how many of these emails there are.
Sidenote - this is a good tip for social media, too. Unfollow anything and everything that makes you feel negative. In the long term, this small inconvenience will hugely benefit you.
4. ⏰ Snooze
This is another simple one. Gmail has a super handy ‘Snooze’ feature that hides an email until you’re ready to see it. It’s another great way to get rid of emails from your inbox that require a certain amount of thought or response that you aren’t quite ready for. You can snooze it til the evening, later that week, or even next month.
By using this feature, you can remove the email so it doesn’t serve as a distraction, having it later reappear when you’re ready to deal with it.
5. 🗓 Schedule Send
When you find yourself working late, ‘Schedule Send’ your email for the following morning before the recipient starts work. This way, you look like you’ve got your life together instead of all over the place.
It’s also a nice thing to do. Sending emails outside of normal working hours may encourage others to work outside of their normal working hours. Don’t be that person.
Schedule sending also removes the need for you to set reminders to send emails in a few days if you know you’ll be without internet, or if you can’t send the email yet.
6. 🙋🏻 Tim Ferriss’s Twice-Daily Method
Good old Tim of Four Hour Work Week fame - a life changing book if you haven't read it yet - recommends checking email twice a day.
[Once] at 12PM and once at 4PM...Never check e-mail first thing in the morning. Instead, complete your most important task before 11AM to avoid using lunch or reading e-mail as a postponement excuse.
He goes on to say:
I was initially terrified of missing important requests and inviting disaster, just as you might be upon reading this recommendation. Nothing happened. Give it a shot and work out the small bumps as you progress.
This not only allows you to focus, but ensures you're dealing with incoming email on your own terms, instead of getting distracted by email 20-30 times a day. According to a University of California Irvine study, “it takes an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds to get back to the task” (tinyurl.com/naeuqi0p). This is called 'Batching'. Try adding a 30 minute 'Email' block in your calendar every weekday from 12pm and 4pm.
🧘🏼 You're now an Email Guru
So there we go! Hopefully these steps will help you control your inbox. By unsubscribing, labelling and skipping the inbox, you’ll be left with a low number of emails that you can easily deal with one by one. All of the important info usually hidden away in your emails is neatly sorted in your labels on the left.
Making these changes will take some time at first. For every minute spent, however, you’ll save 10x that amount of time down the line. Your email won’t be like stepping into hell every time you access it, and it’ll become a helpful tool that allows you to get things done quickly and easily. Thank me later!