Blind Bargains

4 Strategies for Managing the Clutter in your Email Inbox

Yes, I'm one of those people. Leave me a message in my voicemail box and I might check it once or twice a day. Send me an Email message however, and it's quite possible I'll read and reply to you within 5 minutes. I'm definitely not the world's most organized person, and yes, sometimes messages and requests do slip through the cracks. But over time, I've developed a few strategies for managing the pile of messages that end up in my in-box. Here are a few of these.

Use Filters

Blind people are perhaps infatuated with mailing lists more than just about any other group. That's a discussion for another day, but this means I'm on at least a couple dozen lists for various projects, from beta lists for software to membership lists for various organizations. But I also realize that most of these messages have a degree of urgency that's far less than most personal requests, so I use GMail's filters to send them into their own folders. Outlook, Thunderbird, and other clients also have their own ways of accomplishing this task. This perhaps is the single biggest way I've cut down on my inbox traffic, as the clutter of hundreds of messages a day is reduced by 80 to 90 percent. When I have some free moments, I'll check on these lists to see what I missed. And if there's a really important list with time-sensitive traffic, I leave it in my in-box.

Observe the Two Minute Rule for Requests

I was finding that at the end of the day, I would often have a bunch of Emails with really simple questions that I hadn't replied to. What is the phone number for this, or can you send me the link to a certain product. I've now adopted the two minute rule, and it's helped me to declutter quite a bit. In essence, if I can answer an Email, including any necessary research, in under two minutes, I'll take care of it as soon as I see it. This leaves the more complicated requests for when I'm ready to dedicate a bit more time.

Acknowledge Complicated Emails

There are perhaps few things more annoying than writing someone and never hearing back from them. Often, this happens because the question or topic inside was something that required a bit more time to digest, or necessitated a more thoughtful response. It will help both you and the sender to send a quick reply back acknowledging you received the Email and will reply soon. Give them a timeline if you anticipate the response taking more than a day or two. Not only will this give them peace of mind, but it will also prevent your inbox from being cluttered with a follow-up "Did you receive this?" message later.

Cut down on Automated Clutter

In my early days of Twitter, I had no less than 4 ways of being notified of someone sending me a direct message. Naturally, my Windows and phone clients notified me. Twitter, by default, send an Email when a new private message is received. I also set up Twitter's SMS gateway to receive a text message when a new direct message arrived. After awhile, I realized the silliness of this system and cut out both the texts and Emails.

If you receive Emails for automatic events such as being mentioned on Twitter or a forum reply, and you already check these services regularly for new posts, cut out the duplicate notifications and figure out which method is most efficient for you. Duplication is only wasting your time. The methods for doing this vary, but most websites and services will have a profile or settings page which will give you granular control of these options.

Hopefully, one or all of these methods will help you to become more a productive Email user. There are certainly many more strategies that can be utilized, and we'd love to hear yours. What methods do you use to keep your in-box manageable? Post your tricks in the comments.

Category: Articles
Displaying 2 comments.
nimer Thursday, 19-Mar-2015 10:10 AM ET:

I have lately began to use the Inbox client by Google...this has saved me lots of work as Google automatically sorts my messages into meaningful categories. Inbox has really saved me lots of time. I agree with your above points. Thank you for this article.

Bhavya Shah Saturday, 21-Mar-2015 09:18 AM ET:

I heavily use GMail filters to categorize e-mails from the many mailing lists and e-groups I've joined. I have also asked Facebook not to send me notifications all the time. The article summarizes all possible techniques very well.

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J.J. Meddaugh is an experienced technology writer and computer enthusiast. He is a graduate of Western Michigan University with a major in telecommunications management and a minor in business. When not writing for Blind Bargains, he enjoys travel, playing the keyboard, and meeting new people.

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