8 Steps to Conquer Your Email Inbox Forever

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You walk into the office on Monday morning, stagger to the coffee machine, sit down at your desk, and exhale. You grab your mouse and open your email and feel your stomach sink as the unread number stares you in the face. Maybe, eventually, you'll get to work. But for now, you must hack through those emails like an explorer chopping his way through a spam jungle with a laser mouse machete.

The average American worker gets 122 emails every day. Yes, some are important. But alongside the dire message from your boss, you also have an invitation to Lauren's weekend BBQ, a question from an important client, and some trash-talk from your inter-office fantasy football league. How can we tackle email more efficiently?

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Make Some Rules

Jocelyn K. Glei's "Unsubscribe" provides a comprehensive overview of our "love-hate-hate more" relationship with email. Thanks to Blinkist, we're able to condense her book into the most important takeaways. Glei recommends the following steps to tame your inbox.

  • Don't start your day with email. Doing that allows other people to set your priorities. It's easy to get sucked in. Instead, devote the first 60-90 minutes of your day to meaningful work.
  • Only check your email two or three times a day. Make it part of your routine, but don't stray from that. So-called "batchers" tackle email in large chunks, rather than swatting each message as it comes in. Fewer distractions mean more productivity. It also means less stress. A 2015 study showed that people who constantly monitor email are more stressed than those who set aside a few specific times to tackle the task.
  • Turn off alerts. Every time you get a ping, it pulls your attention away from what you're doing, so make sure you don't have notifcations blowing up your phone.

Improve Your Flow

When you finally dig into your email, "Unsubscribe" offers these methods to make it more efficient.

  • Customize your inbox and create helpful folders. With the right settings, your incoming emails will even organize themselves. Consider a folder specifically for your boss or other important coworkers. You'll know to check that first.
  • Set up "quick replies" to help outside senders manage expectations. It lets the sender know you received the message and primes them to chill while you deal with your bigger priorities. Especially if you're in the middle of a stressful time, the quick replies will save you from firing off a tense or angry reply.

Write Like This

How can we write more effective emails? "Unsubscribe" offers strategies as well.

  • Be concise. Consider making a clear point up front. If you wanted a professor to speak at a conference you're organizing, make a brief introduction and get to the point. You may think they want to read paragraphs gushing about how much you love them, but you risk losing their attention before you get to your request.
  • Use statements, not open-ended questions. Throwing out an idea and asking, "What do you think?" leaves a lot of space for someone to drop the ball or get overwhelmed. Instead, give your opinion and narrow the response you expect. ("I think we should paint the house blue. Please let me know if you disagree.")
  • Consider your audience. Weigh what you know of their emotional state (are they upbeat? stressed? excited? overworked?) and write accordingly. Also, try to tailor your message with the pertinent information they'd want from you. You want to be concise, but thorough. The less back-and-forth you have, the less chance you'll have a misunderstanding. Remember, you want to make it easy to digest and act on the message you send.

Speaking of being concise, we just digested a 240-page book and shared its key takeaways with you in less than 15 minutes. Blinkist increases your productivity by giving you all the best information from nonfiction books in a fraction of the time it would take to read the whole thing. If you want to get smarter faster, we'd recommend giving the Blinkist app or website a try.

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