When I first transitioned into startups, I had no idea that my inbox would be one of the things I would have to start getting used to. I was migrating over to Gmail from Outlook which seemed easy enough. However, because of the nature of my job, I was going from inbox zero all the time to constantly having 50 different messages to get through every day. It has been 5.5 years and today, I’m still trying to manage, but I would like to think that I’ve gotten better over the years.
Turn it into a game
Your goal is to get to Inbox 0 by the end of the day or at any time of the day. When you look at your inbox, if there are emails that don’t require any action from you or are just an FYI, archive them immediately. Don’t let them sit in your inbox any longer and get them out of there. For anything that does require a response, respond and take action. If you can’t, set aside time for when you can get to it. Another helpful tip is blocking times on your calendar for when you have designated time to process emails. Do you want to tackle emails in the morning before work or in the evening?
Unsubscribe / Politely Decline
As a recruiter, my email address gets circulated to so many companies. Every week, I’m hearing about a new tool that will allow me to do my job more efficiently or a new agency that wants to partner with me on a search. I know that none of these are feasible at this time. I could continue to archive each email as I’ve been doing, but that takes energy and time too. Like mute is to Instagram, unsubscribe is to my inbox. For anyone trying to do business with me that I know I can’t partner with, I email them back after their first email. If I never respond, the emails will keep coming. However, if I politely decline and let them know I’ll reach out if my situation changes, they know that I’m a) responsive and that b) I’ll get back to them when the time is right.
There are a number of different tools online that you can go to, but I just use my own templates within Gmail. This has been a life saver! Since I’m mainly writing emails to people, it can’t be copied and pasted word for word, but I do my best to fill in as much as I can. This shaves minutes off of my work days especially for repeated emails. Relatedly, there’s another tool that acts as a shortcut for your keyboard that will complete sentences, even paragraphs for you.
Make Your Inbox Work For You
I wouldn’t consider myself a pro when it comes to my inbox. I’m not using all of the features that are provided, but I use what I know works for me. A few of those examples are folders and labels. Folders keep me organized and everything that I need in one place. When I’m unable to find an email I’m searching for on the first try, I know I haven’t done a good job. It’s because there’s so much in there living in the archives. My labels are broken up into four categories. I’ve got your standard Important and Unread and Everything Else. For my job, I also need To Do and To Schedule. When these areas start to look to bulky, I know I’ve got some work ahead of me. Like keeping my inbox to zero, these are two other areas that I like to keep to a minimum.
Hold Yourself Accountable
I generally find that it’s helpful to create an SLA (service level agreement) with yourself. Not only do you have to think about getting those emails out of your inbox, but when do you want to get back to people? As a rule of thumb, 24 hours is my standard. Anything longer, unless you’re on a vacation, I might consider that individual to be slightly unreliable. It’s a courtesy to be able to get back to people in this time span and knowing this and sticking to it will keep your inbox manageable.