Email is a beast. Not the kind of beast where we say “so-and-so is a beast at getting things done.” No, email is the beast that keeps so-and-so from getting things done, by dragging him away from what matters most and inundating him meaningless CCs, spam, and offers. There is a small quiet voice of important information that gets spoken through email that is drowned out by a roar of unimportance and triviality.
Unfortunately, email is a big part of many people’s job, especially my job at the residence hall in which I work. Many administrators rely on email to communicate vital information, of which too much goes ignored. The problem many of us face is a problem of quantity, and a lack of distinction of importance. We don’t see the emails that we want because there is too much unimportant email.
The solution? Unsubscribing, filters, forwarding, and inbox zero.
At the bottom of most emails is a little link that you can click on to stop receiving annoying emails from annoying email lists. This single button alone, if you click it religiously with every email list you ignore all the time, you can cut out easily 30%+ of your inbox bloat. A great time to do this is around Black Friday, when everybody who has you on their mailing list tries to get your money.
The next great trick is email filters. Most email provider services allow you to create little “if the email matches this condition, then do this with the email.” I currently have 44 gmail filters. Many of these sort emails from different retail companies into a folder called promotions, which I only check when I am actually in a store to see if there happens to be a sale.
Many other services will send you updates everytime something happens. You can create a filter that automatically marks these as read, and then archived.
Lastly, I have filters that automatically forward to other email addresses, but more about that in a moment.
There are a bunch of web services that allow you to send an email, and they do things with the contents of the email/the subject line. Two of my favorite free services are Instapaper and followup then.
Instapaper solves the problem of emails with a ton of text. When a verbose friend sends me a small novel, I forward it to an email account associated with my instapaper account (instructions exist on their website), and then archive it in my inbox. Within 10 seconds, the instapaper app on my phone has downloaded and formatted their email, and I can read it at my convenience at a later point in my day when I’m waiting in line at the cafeteria for example. I have filters that automatically forward newsletters to this account too.
Followupthen solves the problem of emails that you receive that you cannot deal with right now, but want to deal with in the future. Many of us use our email inbox as a todo list, and any emails that haven’t been dealt with just sit there. Followupthen allows you to defer emails that you cannot take action on immediately by bouncing them back into your inbox when you next have time. Once you set up an account on followupthen.com, for example, you can forward any email to something like email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org and then followupthen sends back the email at the appointed time. It’s a critical step towards achieving what many call Inbox Zero.
(Followupthen is a free service, that offers premium features for a cost. If you want a $5 discount, here is a $5 referral code: fut.io/a?38d6a48d01)
Inbox Zero is the process of clearing out your email space. It is a way of knowing that you are done with email for the day. The principle is that you want the peace of know that every email has been dealt with and there is nothing that is being overlooked.
To achieve inbox zero, you just create a couple folders, whether in your email browser, or in your todo list manager, or on your desktop, and so forth. Each of these folders will contain information related to a task or a category. When you see an email, you either act on it immediately, or move it to a folder to deal with later. The goal is to move every last email in your inbox into one of these folders, so you have Inbox(0). After you have cleared your inbox, you can then tackle your folders in order of priority or urgency, and not get caught up in being distracted by unimportant emails while an important one is in the bottom of your inbox. The whole process is better documented elsewhere online.
I hope that these tips are helpful for you, and help free you from the roar of the email beast. If you have ever found yourself missing important emails, give some of these ideas a try. If you already have an inbox with over a thousand emails in it, I’m afraid to make this work you might have to go through and delete everything first one by one. If you have google, you can use something like the Email Game. Best of luck!