How to reduce the number of emails in your Inbox

Does it ever feel like your inbox is taking over your life? Especially over the Christmas period or when you are on holiday?

After a pretty non-stop year, I made a conscious decision to take some time away from my computer over Christmas and the New Year: to NOT check and open emails every hour, or even every day. But by day five (including the weekend) I could see, thanks to my smartphone, that there were over 100 emails waiting for me! The dread of missing an important email from a client (even though I knew they knew that SBM was closed for the holidays!) was just too much. I had to check.

Of course, despite what might be described as a mild panic attack at the prospect, I opened my Inbox to find that most of this potentially urgent email was actually newsletters and less than a handful really needed my full attention or were emails I wanted to read or attend to straight away.

Why so many? Had I really signed up for so many company newsletters?

Well quite frankly, I probably had. But whether from professional sources of business-related info, client companies or personal sites that I wanted to stay up-to-date with, the list was quite astounding.

I may well regret what I did next. I might even have had a moment of guilt as I considered the tiny impact I was having on subscriptions and analytics! But in a fearless moment, without too much thought or even reviewing their contents, I BINNED them. ALL of them. Gone!

Some may have been really informative and worth a read, but in that moment, I decided that I had no immediate need.

Surely I was not alone here? I did NOT want to wade through a mountain of emails when I got back to work.

Don’t get me wrong, I think I’m quite organised with my Mail folder, which with folders for each client, colleagues, personal, financial, hobbies, etc., etc. already creates a list long enough to need to scroll. I’ve even set rules to copy important emails, so that I don’t accidentally delete important stuff and the server remains as free as possible (more on that another time!)

Having hit the big, bad ‘delete’ button, I found myself wondering: there must be a better way to reliably reduce the number of emails that flow endlessly into our inboxes. Searching online, most of the articles I found were for gmail accounts but after more diligent searching and sifting (and yes, MORE time on my computer!) I managed to piece together some ideas that were relevant to reducing emails to an IMAP account, from personal domains, using Mac Mail as my mail software.

Now all I needed to do was put it into practice to test it! I did. It worked! And here it is – to help you move away from the computer when you want or need to, without invoking sweaty palms and shallow, rapid breathing. Enjoy!

My 5 step action plan:

  1. Create a generic email address for all newsletter subscriptions – and use it when you sign up!
  2. Set up a new mailbox for Newsletters (you might create separate ones for specific or important ones that you’re a Member of)
  3. Set Mail Rule Preferences, to send any emails sent to your new generic email address to your Newsletter mail folder/s
  4. Monitor for a day or two and make any changes to finetune your new system at appropriate times of the day that don’t monopolise your work time.
  5. Last but not least – and maybe the hardest part of all: be strict with yourself.  Schedule time to check your emails no more than 2-3 times a day.

1.  Change your email address

Creating a generic email address means you can use this email rather than your personal one to subscribe to newsletters, blogs, feeds or anything else you find relevant and interesting. Once you’ve set this up, use the links at the bottom of the emails you’ve subscribed to to change your details or cancel and re-subscribe with your new address. Creating a specific folder or folders for Membership Newsletters will help you to prioritise the ones that are most important to you.

2. Create a new mailbox for Newsletters

If you create a new mailbox named Newsletters, you can then set a rule to send all emails sent to your generic email address straight to the newsletter folder, so it’ll never hit your main Inbox folder.

3. Set Mail Rule Preferences

You can set further mail rules in your preferences to send emails from a specific email address. This is handy if you still want to use your personal email address, but not be distracted during the working day. You could also create another specific folder for these and create another rule.

 4. Monitor your Inbox

If you monitor your Inbox for at least a day or two, you can batch process and create rules all together, as you see exactly what’s happening as your subscribed mail arrives. Slowly but surely, your main Inbox will stop filling up with newsletters – and you can quickly browse through your newsletter folder in a cuppa moment, over lunch or as you plan your day.  If you have time to read in full or there are any useful downloads, great. Do them there and then – or flag ’em and leave them for a better time.

5. Create a schedule

Consciously decide on a schedule that works for you – then stick to it! It’s genuinely acceptable not to rush off a reply the moment an email arrives – and by checking your Inbox at certain times of the day, say first thing, mid-morning, lunchtime and mid-afternoon, you’ll still catch urgent or important emails in good time. Think of your newsletter folder as a luxury – a bit of ‘me time’ – and save it for once (OK, twice if you’re really struggling!) a day. Remember…

It’s not the hours you put into your work that count, it’s the work you put into the hours. SAM EWING