Own Your Inbox: 3 Tips to Cure the Email Plague
Let’s face it. Living in the developed world in the 21st century is a pretty sweet deal. We have movies any time we want them. The majority of us has roofs over our heads and jobs that keep us in soda and chips and in-app purchases. Hardly any of us dies of smallpox or scurvy anymore.
But there’s one industrialized plague that we can’t seem to shake. It was born nearly 50 years ago and now infects nearly everyone with an internet connection and a job. It’s called e-mail, and sometimes, it seems like we’ll never crawl out from under it.
According to the Radicati Group, a market research firm, there were approximately 2.1 billion email users in 2012. That means about 1/3 of all people on the planet are using email. Those 2.1 billion people sent over 144 billion emails per day. That’s an average of 68 emails per person per day! And if you’re like most of the working people I know, it probably seems like you get a LOT more messages than that. It’s no wonder it sometimes feels overwhelming.
But there is hope. You don’t have to be a slave to your inbox. Before you throw up your hands, scrap your computer and switch over to telegrams, give some of these email inbox management tips a try on your smartphone:
1. Use an email client designed for mobile to process messages quickly
- Mailbox (currently only available for iOS) lets you manage your Gmail messages just by swiping. Swipe right to archive a message. Swipe more slowly to send a message to the trash. Swipe left to snooze an email to deal with at a later time — whether later today, tomorrow, this weekend, next week, next month or a date of your choosing. Swipe slowly to the left to add the message to a list, like “To Read” or “To Buy.”
- Boomerang (currently only available for Android, though the web interface also works on iOS, Blackberry and pretty much any other phone with mobile web, and it also plugs directly into your Gmail web interface on your computer) provides many of the same features, plus some other slick stuff we’ll talk about in a second. Though it also currently works only with Gmail, the developer says they’re working on support for Microsoft Exchange (Outlook), Yahoo and others.
- Speaking of rumors, we hear that the Gmail app for Android and iPhone and the native iPhone mail app are getting some of these features as well to make emptying your inbox faster and easier.
2. Delay your emails
- This is one of my favorite tricks. No one likes to receive emails at night or on the weekends, but sometimes that’s when you have the downtime to beat that inbox into submission. Unfortunately, when you reply to a work email on a Saturday, you’re likely to get a reply back on Sunday, and then your weekend looks a whole lot like a weekday! Instead, use Boomerang, Outlook, Thunderbird, Apple Mail so that you can reply to that email and delete it from your inbox, but not have your message delivered until Monday morning. Click here for more on why you should delay your emails. You can find detailed instructions on how to delay your emails in this article.
3. Batch your emails
- We mentioned this strategy in “Don’t Get Ph-Owned,” but it bears repeating. Set your phone so that it only fetches email when you ask it to, instead of delivering it and notifying you with every message as it arrives. Then, when you actually have the time to process a bunch of messages at once, you can focus and plow through them with focus.
BONUS TIP FOR MICROSOFT EXCHANGE / OUTLOOK USERS: If your organization’s IT policies allow it, nest your personal folders for Outlook directly inside your inbox. This will allow you to see them on your phone, and then you can file messages into folders directly instead of leaving them in your inbox to distract and annoy you.
Remember, your email can be a powerful servant, but it’s a horribly domineering master. These three tips might not be the vaccine that gets rid of this plague, but they just might be the penicillin that gets it under control.