Too Many Emails? Time to fight it

ribkhan — Pixabay CC0 Creative Commons

As probably many others too, I get a lot of emails every day, and I do not mean just spam. Over the years, the volume continues to grow steadily. It will distract you and in the worst-case scenario keeping you from doing actual work. At the beginning, it was hard to find the right way for myself, but I think that I have it under control by now. However, lately I was talking with some friends and colleagues, and I was surprised that some of them do not have any strategy how to deal with too many emails. They were complaining that they will not ever be able to have an empty inbox, and they blame the email technology itself. This is not a lecture on how you have to deal with emails, because everyone has a different approach. Nevertheless, I want to provide an insight on how I dealt with it, and maybe it can help you.

What can I do?

First, let us start with something easy. Making quick decisions and pursuing immediate action will help keep your inbox under control. The idea is to not delay something until tomorrow what can be accomplished right away. However, that does not mean that you should leave your email client open all day long. Alerts and beeps from incoming messages can interrupt your work flow and leave you unfocused. Instead, schedule specific blocks of time throughout the day for checking your email.

Second, if you write an email, how many recipients are you usually adding? 3, 5 or even more? Give it a thought — do you really need that many? Adding people so your message looks more important than it actually could be or sending it to people who could possibly nothing to do with this topic, or to start a back and forth discussion with many recipients involved is something that should be absolutely avoided. Just imagine you would get emails from everybody for every tiny little thing. Sometimes is less more.

Third, there are other means as well that could help you to get fewer emails or to improve your dealings with it:

  1. One of the most important things is to have a good spam filter. It should be a standard by now, however I still know enough people that do not want to use one, because they think it is not perfect. You do not need a perfect one, but just one that helps you to get rid of the most common spam and virus.
  2. As soon as more than one person needs access to the same message, there are usually two ways to deal with that: mailboxes or email distribution lists. Both have their pros and cons.
    * If you are sharing a mailbox, then you should definitely define some rules, such as who is taking care of a new unread message, which folders needs to be there, how these folders are being named, and who and when are emails moved. It can become quite complicated if you have different devices and mail clients in use, therefore the coordination should be done in advance.
    * If you are using email distribution lists, then you should give it a thought who should be on these lists, when are you reviewing them, does it make sense to create large lists, and who should and will use them. We have a bunch of these lists and some of them are rather big, so please keep in mind that adjusting and sometimes deleting is the key to not lose control.
  3. In every case it makes total sense to have Sieve filters¹. If you are not familiar with that: Sieve filters are installed on the mail server to filter incoming emails. With their help you can delete messages right away, move it to another folder, set a seen flag, and do many more things. It will take some time to set up all filters you might need, but it is definitely worth it.
  4. Sieve filters may or may not be supported by your email provider, but another quite helpful trick is to use lables, colouring and flags. Unfortunately, this depends on the client and/or mail provider you are using, but across all of them it is somehow possible.
    * In Apple Mail² on macOS you can set your own rules and flag emails with different colours, while in iOS you are only be able to flag them.
    * In Gmail³ you can do the same things as in Apple Mail, but across devices, it is better implemented. Furthermore, the choice and possibilities are greater than at Apple Mail.
    * In Outlook/O365 you can actually do the same things as with Gmail, but you have even more options available.
  5. On top of that, you should think about other applications and services that are usually sending email notifications, such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Atlassian Jira/Confluence, Zendesk/OTRS, Jenkins but also Cronjobs and many more. Do you really want to get all these notices or would it be fine just to deactivate them respectively to delete them right away?
  6. Newsletters and advertisements can overwhelm your inbox and bury important messages. Clean out the clutter. Unsubscribe from receiving messages from specific senders if you no longer want to receive their missives or do not have the time to read them. To make the unsubscribe process quick and painless, search your inbox for the term “unsubscribe”. Review the search results and determine whose emails you would continue to welcome and the missives you would prefer to live without.
  7. Ultimately, an offbeat idea. If you have a bunch of thousands unread emails that you have not touched in the last couple of weeks or months, then just mark them as read and move them away. If something very important was there, then the one who sent it to you will get back to you anyways. You will never get down to nil if you cling on messages. This doesn’t necessary mean that you need to delete those, you can also make use of the archive option in your mail client. This will compress messages and will not waste to much space.

My bottom line is …

You are not alone, but there are ways to deal with it. No matter how you choose to handle your emails, if you reflect on these ideas you should be able to get a better control of your inbox and hopefully make your live easier.


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