Managing Email When Your Inbox is Overloaded

Managing email is getting harder and harder as the volume of messages keeps increasing, but our brainpower isn’t. The secret isn’t technological; it’s knowing how your brain works. Get-It-Done Guy has 6 tips to control inbox overload.

Stever Robbins
Episode #236

Tip #4: Handle Email at Defined Times Only

If your email program doesn’t drive your attention, who does? You! Yes, this is your big chance to shine. Shut your email program when you’re done managing your email. Designate 2 or 3 times a day when you will commit to handling email. At those times, and only at those times, fire up your email program, process your inbox, and then shut it down.

I know what you’re about to say: “But my boss expects me to handle every email instantly.” Then talk to your boss. Say, “Boss, I want to be productive so our team hits our goals and you get promoted to a lovely corner office with a mahogany desk (far, far away from here). I’ll check my email daily at 10am, 1pm, and 3:30pm so I can focus in between.” Your boss will praise your innovative solution to producing high-quality work. Or your boss will explain that you should be able to work and handle every email that comes in. In that case, you’re in a no-win situation. You can find a new boss, or stop complaining and start meditating, because you’re stuck with the status quo unless you change it.

See also: How to Manage Your Boss

Tip #5: Manage Your Email With Only a Few Rules and Folders

The software makers tell you that you can set up rules to filter, sort, and manage your email. Over the many years I’ve been doing this, I’ve tried every automated solution under the sun and concluded that the effort of trying to make the system work is almost always more than the effort it saves me.

I manage my email using only a few folders: my inbox is where stuff comes in. Reference is where I file information that may be useful for a long time. Follow-up are messages that I’ll need to handle a current to-do item on my task list. And Archive, is where messages get put when they’ve been handled. Searching is the way to find old messages. I use my previous tip on managing messages when they have useless subject lines to make sure the message will be found when I search for relevant keywords.

Tip #6: Use a Special Email for Clients

I don’t use many automated rules and filters to manage the email in my inbox, but one bears mentioning. I have several email addresses that all come to the same inbox. I give paying clients a special email address. A filter in my Gmail automatically flags those messages with a bright red flag for urgent attention. When it’s time to manage email, I start by scanning for the red flag.

I have many other email management tips, but this is all we have time for today. You can find them in my book Get-it-Done Guy’s 9 Steps to Work Less and Do More and in my audio program You Are Not Your Inbox.

This is Stever Robbins. I help people deal with overload by setting boundaries, creating better systems, and managing their emotions. If you want to know more, visit http://www.SteverRobbins.com.

Work Less, Do More, and have a Great Life!

Episode on Keeping Your Inbox Empty
Episode on Adding Keywords to Messages Before Filing Them

 Cartoon with Laptop, Woman Checking Email on Phone and Woman at Cafe images from Shutterstock


About the Author

Stever Robbins

Stever Robbins 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. 

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