How to Spend Less Time on Email: 12 Tips for Keeping Your Inbox Under Control

How to Spend Less Time on Email in 2024:
10 Tips for Keeping Your Inbox Under Control

Ahh, email. Can‘t live with it, can‘t live without it. For many knowledge workers, email has become both an essential communication tool and a never-ending source of stress and distraction. The average person spends 28% of their workweek reading and answering emails, according to a McKinsey analysis. That‘s over 11 hours a week!

If your inbox often feels like it‘s controlling you, rather than the other way around, you‘re not alone. But enough is enough – it‘s time to take back control of your precious time and attention. Follow these 10 tips and you‘ll be well on your way to spending less time on email in 2024 and beyond.

  1. Perform a newsletter purge.

The first step to reduce email overload is to choke off email at the source. Unsubscribe ruthlessly from any newsletters, promotional emails, and non-essential mailing lists you‘re on. Be honest – when was the last time you actually read that industry digest or product update? Unroll.me is a handy free tool that lets you mass unsubscribe with just a few clicks.

  1. Use filters to automatically sort incoming emails.

Most emails don‘t require your immediate attention. Set up filters (Gmail) or rules (Outlook) to automatically file messages into appropriate folders as they come in. This could be by sender, subject line keywords, mailing lists, etc. Then you can batch process those folders at designated times. An empty inbox is a happy inbox.

  1. Master keyboard shortcuts.

Want to blaze through your inbox in record time? Ditch the mouse and learn some keyboard shortcuts. In Gmail, typing "e" archives a message, while "#" deletes it. In Outlook, Ctrl + R lets you reply in a flash. Shortcuts are a game-changer once you get the hang of them.

  1. Schedule email time.

Rather than constantly monitoring your inbox, set aside dedicated chunks of time for email. Maybe it‘s 30 minutes in the morning and evening. The rest of the day, keep your email program closed so you can focus on deep work without interruption.

As Lori Deschene wisely said, "When you check your email or social media, you‘re basically saying, ‘Anyone know what I should be doing right now?‘" Don‘t let the whims of your inbox dictate your day.

  1. Embrace the art of brevity.

Not every email needs a carefully crafted 5-paragraph response. Often a few sentences or even a few words will suffice. Don‘t feel guilty about being succinct. If you‘re worried about coming across as terse, create an email signature that says something like: "Keeping emails brief to be more productive. Hope you understand!"

Here‘s an example of how a lengthy back-and-forth email chain could be condensed:

Bob: Hey Sarah, I‘m working on the Q4 budget presentation. Do you have the latest revenue projections? I want to make sure my slides are accurate. Let me know when you have a chance!

Sarah: Hi Bob, I believe Kyle pulled those together last week. Let me check with him and circle back. What‘s your timeline?

Bob: I‘m presenting to the exec team next Friday, so anytime before then would be great. Thanks Sarah, appreciate you tracking those down!

Sarah: Hey again Bob, good news – I got the updated numbers from Kyle. Sending them your way now. Let me know if you need anything else!

Bob: This is perfect Sarah, exactly what I needed! I really appreciate you taking the time to hunt these down. You‘re the best!

VS.

Bob: Need latest Q4 revenue projections for exec presentation next Fri. LMK!

Sarah: Here you go. attachment

Bob: Thx!

Use your judgment of course, but don‘t be afraid to pare things down to the essentials. Your colleagues will likely appreciate the efficiency.

  1. Keep canned responses handy.

If you find yourself typing out the same replies over and over, save yourself time by keeping a list of canned responses. In Gmail, you can enable canned responses under Settings > Advanced. Compose your replies, save them with clear labels, then insert them with a click when needed.

Some common use cases:

  • Referring people to a knowledge base or FAQ
  • Requesting more info or context on a request
  • Letting someone know you‘re looking into their issue
  • Thanking someone for their feedback or suggestion
  • Politely declining an invitation or sales pitch
  1. Delegate like a boss.

If you receive an email that would be better handled by someone else on your team, don‘t be afraid to delegate. Forward it along with a quick note about what‘s needed. There‘s no need to become the bottleneck or gatekeeper.

This is especially important as you move up in seniority. Learn to distinguish between emails that really require your input vs busywork that can be passed off. Empower your team to take on more responsibility and trust that they‘ll keep you in the loop on important items.

  1. Adopt an inbox zero mentality.

Inbox zero doesn‘t mean you must always have zero emails in your inbox. Rather, it‘s a mindset and methodology for efficiently processing emails and avoiding clutter buildup. Whenever you open an email, give it your full attention and take one of the following actions:

  • Delete (if it‘s junk, irrelevant, or you know you won‘t get to it)
  • Delegate (forward to the appropriate person if not you)
  • Respond (if a reply will take less than 2 minutes)
  • Defer (file/tag for later if a longer response is needed)
  • Do (if there‘s a quick action you can take right then)

The goal is to touch each email only once and make an active decision about it. No more endlessly scanning your inbox, hoping emails will magically resolve themselves! If you‘ve decided an email doesn‘t warrant a response, delete it and move on. No guilt necessary.

I‘ve found that a 30-minute inbox cleanup session once a week does wonders. I put on a great playlist, get in the zone, and aim to ruthlessly whittle my inbox down to the bare essentials. It‘s an oddly satisfying and meditative practice. Give it a try!

  1. Try a radical approach like yesterbox.

If you‘re drowning in email and need a complete system overhaul, consider a method like yesterbox. Devised by Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh, yesterbox involves only replying to emails received yesterday or earlier. Today‘s emails get pushed to tomorrow.

The benefit is that you start each day with a finite, known quantity of emails to get through, rather than an endless stream of incoming messages. You can budget your time and energy accordingly. If you don‘t get through them all by day‘s end, no worries – there‘s always tomorrow!

While not for everyone, this kind of drastic protocol can be helpful for breaking out of unhealthy email patterns. Experiment and see what works best with your work style and needs.

  1. Take advantage of email tools and plugins.

There are a plethora of tools out there designed to help make email more manageable. Find the ones that address your biggest pain points. A few of my favorites:

  • Boomerang: Schedule emails, set reminders, get notified if no response
  • SaneBox: Automatically sorts emails by importance, has "SaneLater" folder for batch processing
  • MailTrack: See when recipients open your emails (great for sales or following up)
  • Grammarly: Catch typos and improve your writing
  • CloudHQ: Easily save email attachments to the cloud

No single tool is a silver bullet, but using a thoughtful combination can streamline your workflow.

Ultimately, learning to better manage email is about managing your own psychology. It requires being intentional about what deserves your attention. Maintaining a zero inbox might feel satisfying, but an empty inbox doesn‘t necessarily mean you‘re being productive on the things that really matter.

As Merlin Mann memorably put it: "Inbox zero is not about the number of messages in your inbox–it‘s the amount of your attention on it."

So cut yourself some slack. There will always be more emails coming in. But by shifting your mindset and using these tips and tools, you can wrest control away from your inbox and get back to the work that truly moves the needle. Your 2024 self will thank you!