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Can’t keep up with email? 12 ways to simplify your bulging inbox

We’ve all got jobs to do (where we actually do stuff), weekly reports / status updates to write (where we need to stop doing stuff in order to tell someone what stuff we’ve done / plan to do), meetings to attend (where we need to stop doing stuff in order to listen to other people talk about what stuff they do / have done), oh and then there’s something else to deal with – email. Urgh.


In large organisations email is used in a very lazy, poor quality, frustrating way. More often than not it’s irrelevant, unnecessary and avoidable. It’s also used as a distraction from getting real work done. Ever notice yourself checking email instead of finishing off a task?

One thing that is consistent is that it adds unwarranted pressure and stress. Imagine a goblin under your desk kicking you in the shins every 30 seconds, this is what email is like – it nags at you. It’s always just there.

You may already know that I’m not a huge fan of email, but whilst I’m realistic enough to know that it’s unavoidable at work, there are a bunch of things we can do to help reduce the pressure and hassle that come from having to deal with it. They are all quick and easy to implement.

Here’s some practical tips to help deal with incoming emails.

  1. Stop striving for ‘Inbox Zero

For most normal humans it’s just not going to work. Sure it’s achievable (briefly), but I don’t believe the amount of effort required to sustain it justifies the (very) short term benefit. When you work for an organisation where it’s totally normal to receive between 30-100 emails a day – striving to maintain Inbox Zero becomes a pressure in itself.

  1. Use folder structures

Create a bunch of folders where you can file the emails you need to keep for reference. You inbox should not be a catch all bucket where you leave anything of possible interest. Moving stuff out helps to remove the noise and adds clarity to what should be getting your attention. If there are more than 500 emails in your inbox, (I’ve often seen this) how are you going to find anything? How do you know what you are meant to read, action or ignore?

  1. Use ‘Rules’ to file stuff automatically

Got stuff that you need to keep for audit reasons but you don’t need to read or action? Set up a rule today to move them out of your inbox automatically.

  1. Turn off notifications

You know that shin kicking goblin? That is what those little notifications are that appear in the bottom of your screen are.  Here’s how to turn them off.

  1. Turn it off

Lets go a step further. Just switch the bloody thing off. Not just the notifications but the whole application. I know – Crazy! But imagine setting aside some time each day where email was not even a consideration, even for 30 minutes. I bet nothing would break, the organisation would not suddenly implode, and you would notice improved focus for this short time.

  1. Delete!

If an email does not contain anything useful to you, or is not asking anything of you, don’t leave it, delete it!

  1. Unsubscribe

Get a bunch of automated notifications or sales crap that is of no value – unsubscribe.

  1. Action it

If you need to respond then respond immediately. As soon as you read it (and before you move on to the next one) get it off your to do list.

Here’s some ideas about outgoing emails

  1. Send less

If you send fewer crappy emails you will receive fewer crappy emails. Simple. Where possible talk to people face to face. Over the phone is also better and quicker than email.

  1. Make them count

Rather than using emails at work in a lazy way to avoid actual conversation, send emails that matter.

  1. Put yourself in the other persons shoes

Here’s an interesting article detailing 5 questions every email should answer.

So there you go. None of this is revolutionary stuff, but it doesn’t hurt to remind ourselves of the perils and the waste caused by email occasionally.

Reclaim some of your time from Outlook today and get rid of that little git under the desk.

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