Tips for Managing Email

How much time do you spend wrangling your email each day?  Too much? That’s what I thought. Well, you’re in luck! The Internet is full of blog posts and articles about productivity, and many of those are about managing your email.  Figuring out how to manage one’s email inbox can help you feel much more efficient with your time — there’s nothing like an empty inbox to make you feel like you’re on top of things.  The key for managing your email is figuring out what works for you to feel in control of your inbox and reduce email-related anxiety. I’ve put together a few tips and resources for email management below.

Sorting my emails before they even get to my inbox is critical for me to reduce the amount of time I spend messing with email in a day. Pre-processing emails means that (hopefully) only the most important emails go straight into my inbox.  Here are a few strategies that I employ:

  • Be proactive about unsubscribing to newsletters that I’m not interested in. I’ll usually reach a breaking point with the number of sales-type emails I get and go on an unsubscribing spree.  If you search for “unsubscribe” in your inbox, you’ll be able to pull up most of those kinds of emails and go through unsubscribing from a bunch at a time.
  • Switch the type of notifications I get from various sources — if you’ve chosen to get emailed updates for a blog, for example, you could switch over to using an RSS reader instead.  You might also want to think about reducing the kind and/or number of notifications you’re getting from places.  For example, do you get emails from Facebook, PayPal, your bank, etc., every time something mundane happens?  Double-check your email notification settings and see if you can reduce the number of emails you receive.
  • Setting up filters (or “rules”) depending on your chosen email application.  I use filters for all kinds of things.  For example, when I teach a class, I create a new mailbox for that class.  I set up rule in Apple Mail so that any email coming from a student in that class goes into that mailbox instead of my inbox.  The way I had it set up, I still see that I have a new email, but it doesn’t go in my inbox. This helps me manage the time I spend on dealing with student emails.  I also filter emails from W&M listservs to bypass my inbox, but still let me know I have a new email.

Doing some of the above steps should help curb the massive influx of emails into your inbox.  The second step to managing my email is in how I deal with those emails that then do get into my inbox:

  • Delete, delete, delete.  I delete email as soon as it comes in if it’s something I know is not important. Along with deleting, I may also think about unsubscribing (as described above) or creating a filter for that type of email, if it’s something that I don’t want to look at.
  • Archiving.  For emails that I know I may want to keep but that don’t require a reply, I put them into an archive folder.  If you use Gmail, you can select the email then click the archive button. Most mail programs you can create a new mailbox or folder to house archived mail.
  • Reply right away to emails that would take under two minutes to respond to.
  • Leave the others that I need to reply to or add to a to-do list in my inbox.  Once I do reply, then I archive it.

The above are some strategies that I use, and I won’t guarantee that they will work for you.  But, you should give some of them a try if you hope to reduce email anxiety and time spent.  Remember that as with any technological tool, it’s all about figuring out what works specifically for you.  Asking colleagues how they deal with email might also give you some ideas.

Along with my suggestions above (and I am by no means a productivity “expert”), here are a few resources that might also help give you more ideas:

Over at Zen Habits: Email Sanity: How to Clear Your Inbox When You’re Drowning

Five Fast Email Productivity Tips from Merlin Mann

Paul English’s tips for email




About Kim Mann

Kim Mann is the editor and a writer for the Academic Technology Blog. She earned her BA in English from the University of Minnesota in 2003 and her MA in American Studies from William & Mary in 2009, and her PhD in American Studies at the College in 2014. Her research is on technology, the interface, and the body in mid-twentieth century science fiction.