Ever heard of Inbox Zero?
For some, it sounds like a productivity-buff unachievable dream. For others, it might sound like a joke considering the volume of emails they get daily.
If you have to handle several high-traffic email addresses, you’ll need to set up and stick with a robust email management system. Of course, one could argue that the easiest way is simply to scrap emails altogether. However, that’s neither realistic nor practical. Even if you move your whole organization to Slack, you’ll still have to interact with the outside world — with emails.
Email isn’t going away anytime soon and certainly not in the workspace. Considering a system to improve our experience of managing email is the next logical step. The email overload brings a tremendous amount of extra stress. Without even considering the time loss, an unorganized mailbox takes a toll on professionals’ well being.
Before we get to the system you can put in place, and the tools you can use to help you keep up with it, let’s consider the big picture: how email became the main workspace communication medium.
Despite the attempts to get rid of email and move on to the next thing, it has become one of the standard protocol of the internet, just like HTTP. It’s the cornerstone of our online identities: we use it to authenticate ourselves on most if not all services and apps.
EMAIL IS HERE TO STAY
With the emergence of OTT apps such as Messenger, Whatsapp, or Telegram, the usage of emails for personal communication might be on the downtrend. Since there is no economic value associated with this questions, statistics are sparse, if any. The overall email usage metrics keep increasing yearly. In 2018, we now have more than 3.8 billion email users with a steady yearly growth rate around 3%:
We observe a similar trend on the activity of the users, with 281 billion emails sent daily and a similar growth rate. That’s around 37 emails sent daily for every human there is on earth, or about 150 000 email total impressive every minute.
THE WORKPLACE COMMUNICATION MEDIUM
While the personal usage might be decreasing, there are other use cases of email definitely on an uptrend such as automated emails and business emails. In the workplace, the email is still the preferred communication method:
Email has evolved since its humble and simple beginnings, and we now have a whole industry built around it. Think about all the tools and services related to email: providers, email clients, address research and cleanups tools, email automation software, spam detection, email sorting, newsletter, and campaign manager, CRM software… We’re not even scratching the surface of the “email industry.”
The statistics about email’s usage are bright for the future of the medium, but such metrics also include another growing part of the email’s ecosystem, the dark side of emails if you may: spams, automated promotional messages, or just the unnecessary emails which amount for a large share of the daily traffic.
If you’re still unconvinced about email’s dominance or are among the skeptics who think an app will replace it we invite to read our paper: Meet Email, the 47 years-old communication protocol that will put Slack to sleep.
HOW TO CONTAIN THE EMAIL FLOOD?
Considering email’s dominance, looking for an exhaustive alternative is unrealistic. Whatever your setup is, you’ll always have to deal at least partially with emails. All the emails address we manage in a professional context, as well as the sheer volume of emails they receive, can quickly get overwhelming. This phenomenon even has a name — email overload — and researchers documenting its effect. These include feelings of isolation, anxiety, and loss of control; longer workdays; a faster pace of work; task fragmentation; and even email addiction.
To avoid the stress and the other negative consequences triggered by email overload, you better be prepared. It’s a matter of tools of course but before we get into the technical details is necessary to underline why the methodology enforced to process emails matters and how to improve it. We have prepared an extensive guide, and we’ll walk you through it.
EMAIL MANAGEMENT TIPS
All around the internet, you’ll find many tips to deal with email overload and the distress it causes. It’s quite easy to get lost in the process and forget the end goal. To keep it concise, we covered only the most impactful ones.
GET ON A COMPUTER
As tempting as it might be, processing emails on tablets and smartphones is hardly efficient. Such devices were designed first as consumption devices. Email clients on phones are not on par with their desktop counterparts. Let’s not forget all the other desktop-only tools that can help you process your emails. Besides touchpad keyboards are unfit to write email quickly and without typos.
PHONES ARE UNFIT TO PROCESS EMAILS EFFECTIVELY
Setting up a mailbox on a smartphone is a severe productivity risk. If you are the kind of user who will fine-tune one’s notification settings and disable the useless ones, go for it. However, be aware that you are a unicorn, part of the 1%.
Changing the notification settings is a hassle most people won’t go through. Hell, most of us don’t care enough to change our ringtones. While the ringtone is harmless, notifications can quickly become productivity sinks.
The phone addiction is already bad enough for productivity, let’s not fuel it more.
The Dscout research also found that average users spent 145 minutes on their [Android] phones and engaged in 76 phone sessions per day. As for iPhone users, Apple recently confirmed that its device users unlock their phones 80 times every day. That’s about as much as six to seven times every hour.
– Putting a Finger on our Phone Obsession — Michael Winnick at Dscout
Keeping your phone-emails interaction in check doesn’t have to be a black and white situation. Of course, there are situations where you need to access your emails in mobility. You can prepare for these times by setting up your email accounts on your phone and disabling all notifications as well as the automated synchronization. You’ll be able to read and send emails occasionally without hindering your daily productivity.
Phones seriously contribute to a daily productivity loss for most of us, that compounds into a staggering amount of lost hours over time. It was essential to tackle them first. Our next topic is probably as impacting even though it’s less apparent.
MAKE YOUR WRITING STYLE WORK FOR YOU
Emails go both ways. Before we cover how to process your incoming emails, let’s talk about how to make sure you don’t add to the noise when you write one. Your clients, co-workers, and prospects will appreciate it, and it will trickle down to you. Ultimately, email noise affects everybody from the sender to the recipient and even the CCs and BCCs.
Adopting an effective writing style has a significant impact on all your written productions: it’s much bigger than emails. We’ve written a comprehensive overview covering effective writing and how it applies to email, what follows is the gist of it:
1. KEEP IT SHORT AND TO THE POINT
Attention is a scarce resource: acknowledging it is a sign of respect for your readers. Be economical in your emails, save the fluff for the coffee break. If you maintain a high signal-to-noise ratio, your coworkers will pay close attention to your emails and the information will flow, unhindered.
2. FORMAT FOR CONCISENESS AND CLARITY
Texts on a computer come with many features to structure the information such as headers, bold, ordered and unordered lists. Make use of these them to make your emails easy to process and skim through. Keep in mind that the first draft magic is a myth. Writing is an iterative process. The only consistent way to make sure your emails are clear is to write drafts and edit them ruthlessly, especially for important emails.
3. MIND THE GOAL / KEEP IT ACTION-ORIENTED
When you write an email, try to think about its goal. What would be a success scenario? Think about the expected answer before you send your emails and adapt for it. For instance, suggest time windows when asking for a meeting or a call, or make a list of expected decisions when asking for inputs.
If you would like to learn more about effective writing, check our dedicated article which includes more details and resources to help you get started.
With the basics covered, let’s get to the meat of solving email’s overload: implementing an efficient process to sort through incoming emails.
SETTING UP A PROCESS TO ORGANIZE YOUR INBOX
The first step addresses your mindset when you check your emails. Going to a mailbox to read it is like going on Facebook “to check the feed”: a gateway to a time flush.
Instead, if you want to stay efficient while dealing with your email, you’ll have to approach the very act of checking your mailbox with an intent: processing them.
Once we’re clear on the mindset, the next step is about finding a processing methodology that works for you. To each one’s own, but there are some redundancies in the successful workflows:
- Reducing the amount of incoming email: unsubscribing to unwanted emails (we have a handy tool for that below), and reducing further incoming mess thanks to effective writing.
- Find a process to follow up essential emails: you can use the built-in features of your mailbox (such as flagging or starring) or connect a third party app (Trello, Slack…) to set up reminders for instance.
- Sorting incoming emails effectively: this is usually done using folders/labels to sort your emails. You also use email siblings (+ such as
Get more idea about what kind of email processing methodology you can enforce with our dedicated article: Email prioritization made accessible with a 7-step methodology.
Whatever your choice, the logical next step is to automate the process as much as possible. It will make it much easier to keep up with your chosen methodology. We’ve got a whole toolbox designed to that end in our next section.
EMAIL MANAGEMENT TOOLS
Gmail is one of the most prevalent email providers. It comes bundled with features to help you organize and process incoming emails. We cover them extensively in our guide: A practical guide to reducing the clutter in your Gmail inbox.
One of the tricks we recommend in this article stands out for its elegance and its simplicity. It will let you unsubscribe without even having to look for the button and go through the hassle. Once you set it up, you can unsubscribe from undesired emails by simply tagging them: email magic!
ADVANCED EMAIL INTEGRATIONS
We’re not Gmail fanatics though, and we also address other providers and clients. In our article compiling advanced emails tips, we walk through the different ways to integrate the productivity apps you use with your emails. Be it Asana, Trello, Evernote, Pocket or others, you can connect them with your email and automate at least part of your flow.
In-app emails integration are interesting, but the advanced integration and customization options offered by tools such as IFTTT and Zappier will take you even further. The flows can be as long as you want, from two steps to an infinity, which lets you create some really cool automation.
For instance, in our dedicated article, we introduce an IFTTT applet made to organize your receipts, orders, and invoices neatly in a Google Sheets, after saving them to a dedicated Google Drive folder. The possibilities are truly endless once you get the logic. Get started: Advanced Email Tips: Automate your inbox.
With all our tips, tools, and recommendations, sorting through your mailbox will be much easier. You might be overwhelmed by the whole organization required to become efficient with emails though, and that’s definitely understandable. If that’s the case, we’ve got another radically different solution for you too!
SOLVING NOTIFICATION OVERLOAD ONCE AND FOR ALL
Email overload is a subset of a larger issue: the sheer volume of notifications we get daily, from all the services and apps we use. Sadly, we don’t have a solution to suggest for your personal life; you’ll have to suffer Messenger, Instagram, Telegram, and others apps’ notifications or find your own workaround.
The good news is that we mean business and do a propose a comprehensive solution to handle your notifications in a professional setting. Gwapit preserves your focus — all your notifications are centralized and priorities emerge at the top of your feed. You get notified only when it’s important (according to your rules) and can act in a flash, straight from the app.