7 Pro Tips for Managing Your Bursting Email Inbox

Take control of email before it takes control of you!

Stever Robbins
5-minute read
Episode #516

Email! I just love email! No, I don’t. Actually, my current definition of “rich” is having enough money that I can hire people to handle all my email and never have to touch a computer again. Been there. Done that. 

If you want to make your email a supportive, carefree part of your life, like cat pictures or fluffy feather pillows or politicians, let’s explore how you can do that.

1. Throw Away Vacation Email

There’s nothing like going on vacation to take you out of the stress of daily work. And there’s nothing like coming back to an inbox of 23,917 messages to send your cortisone levels back through the roof. 

Before you leave on vacation, turn on your vacation autoresponse message. Set it to say, “I’m on vacation. I’ll be back on January 10 and will immediately delete my email backlog unread. This is necessary for my sanity. If your messages is important, please resend it then.” Then do that. You’ll find that rather than being annoyed, most people will admire you for protecting your boundaries and not getting overloaded. And people with important messages will actually resend them when you get back.

2. Catch Up On the Most Recent Email from Each Thread

Of course, Jordan, that annoyingly perky new hire in the next cubicle, will ignore your vacation message and you’ll be included in a 93-message-long email thread about people bringing their cats to work. 

Great! When you get back, delete all messages in the thread except the most recent. 99.99% of the time, people reply to a thread and include all the previous messages. To catch up, you just need to read the most recent message from bottom to top and you’ll be up to speed lickity-split. You’ll be ready to propose the Purrr-fect policy.

3. Don’t Use "Reply All"

"Reply All" replies to everyone who received the same message you did. Jordan listed 18 recipients. One was a senior manager Jordan wants to impress. Another was Jordan’s boss, so the boss knows Jordan’s on top of things. A third was the head of the sales department, who would correctly interpret the cat policy as being a metaphor for the impending power struggle as Jordan seeks to bring the entire company under control. And so on. 

Only three of the 18 recipients will actually be affected by the policy. "Reply All" wastes the time of the other 15 people, and they’ll target you as the one wasting their time. When you reply, delete the 15 extra recipients and keep only the people who matter in the thread. Otherwise, part of the cat policy will end up being the co-location of litter boxes in your cubicle. 

4. Force Inbox Zero

If you’re one of those devotees to the idea that you have to empty your inbox every day, my heart goes out to you. That means you let everyone except you decide how your time will get used. I hope that’s working for you. 

If you want to get to inbox zero, select all your messages and delete them. DONE! Inbox zero! Now your compulsive self can pat yourself on the back and feel great!

Then browse through your junk folder and transfer just the messages you want to keep back to your inbox. You’ll rescue a few messages and respond to them. I call this "Delete Then Rescue."

For a full explanation of this technique, and to experience it performed in song by two professional New York musical theater actors, visit http://WorkLessAndDoMore.com and click the video link at the top of the page.


About the Author

Stever Robbins

Stever Robbins was the host of the podcast Get-it-Done Guy from 2007 to 2019. He is a graduate of W. Edward Deming’s Total Quality Management training program and a Certified Master Trainer Elite of NLP. He holds an MBA from the Harvard Business School and a BS in Computer Sciences from MIT.