3 Easy Ways To Keep Email From Ruining Your Life

Often I see friends, family, and co-workers who have cluttered inboxes and the resulting anxiety to match. It doesn’t have to be this way, though. There’s no reason you need to routinely have more than 100, 50, or even 25 unread emails.

Clutter, including digital clutter, crowds our mental space and creates anxiety and tension. I don’t want that for me or for anyone else. That’s why it’s important to get things like email under control. Email is a great and valuable too, but if we mismanage it, it can greatly affect our peace and mental health.

Quick disclaimer: below are the ways that I manage my email. This may not work for you, and you may have a better system. My goal is to simply help you start thinking about ways to make your email life better.

With that in mind, here are my three easy ways to keep email from ruining your life:

1) Don’t leave email sitting there. Move it, reply to it, or archive it.

When I go through my inbox, the goal is for it not to stay there. If I can (or need to) take action on it immediately, I do. If it’s information I can read quickly or spam-y marketing email, I’ll either archive it or delete it, depending on if I’ll possibly need it in the future.

(If it’s relevant information that I want to remember easily but don’t want to be lost in the abyss of my email archive, I’ll forward it to Evernote.)

Otherwise, I move it to the appropriate folder, which I explain in tip #2:

2) Use the power of folders (and your calendar)

I know a lot of people that trip up on this by creating a folder for everything. You don’t need a special folder just for a special project you’re working on or the silly emails your crazy aunt forwards you. That creates unnecessarily mental clutter.

What’s worked for me (and this can look totally different for you) has been using five folders and my calendar:

My folder structure in Outlook
  • Follow Up ASAP — I check this folder at the end of every day to see what things I need to address immediately or prioritize first-thing the next day.
  • Follow Up SomedayThis is where the power of the calendar works its magic. In this folder, I file things that need a response eventually but are not urgent and can wait a few weeks. I set a recurring 30-minute calendar invite on the first Monday every month to go through this folder.
  • NotificationsThis is where the notifications from things like Basecamp, Slack, Google Docs, HipChat, etc., automatically go. I have a rule in Outlook set up that files those for me automatically.
  • Read & ReviewSometimes people send me cool articles or some information to read. If it’s long, I’ll file it here. Every Thursday at 3:30, I set 30 minutes aside to go through this folder and read anything that’s relevant.
  • Archive — This one’s pretty self-explanatory. This is the ultimate destination for most email. After it’s gone through one of the folders above, or if I don’t need to action on it from my inbox, it gets filed here. I put EVERYTHING in one archive folder; the power of search on both Gmail and Outlook are great enough now that there’s no reason to have the hassle of multiple archive folders.

3) Turn off mobile notifications

I use the Outlook for iOS app, and one of the best things I’ve learned to do is turn off notifications. I don’t need to be notified every time I get an email, especially considering 50% are marketing or spam emails that will immediately be deleted. My co-workers and I understand that if something is urgent, email is not the way to communicate it. If the building is burning down, you don’t send an email. With that in mind, there’s no email I would get while I’m not working that’s that important. If it is, I’ll get a phone call or text (which very, very rarely happens.) So, I can turn off email notifications with peace of mind.


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