We all aspire to reach “inbox zero.” But the actual action and time it takes to get there can be daunting, to say the least.
The truth is that managing emails can take up a huge chunk of the day. A 2015 survey found that American workers spend just over six hours a day checking email ― and the majority of that time is spent outside of office hours, going through business emails.
It’s only understandable, then, that many of us feel controlled by unread messages, spam mail, newsletters and correspondence with colleagues. The good news is that there are some relatively simple ways to alleviate the inbox madness. All you need to do is hack your habits.
We gathered some research-backed tips as well as some advice from our Facebook community on the best ways to curb your email stress.
Adjust your notifications.
Just tweaking how often you get alerts for new messages can have an influence on your stress levels. Research published in 2014 found that when participants turned off their notifications and only checked their email three or four times a day, they felt less stressed and more positive overall than those who constantly kept tabs on their inbox.
Archive your emails on vacation.
If the idea of coming back from a trip to hundreds of unread emails makes you ill, this trick is for you: Set up a filter in your Gmail settings so all of your emails are archived while you’re out. It won’t delete them, it will just instantly mark all messages as “read” and stash them in your “All Mail” folder, so you’ll be able to find them when you’re back if you like. You can even let people know you won’t be reading any of the emails you receive while you’re gone, and tell them to email you again after your return date if the matter is important. Here’s a breakdown on how to do it. (If you don’t have Gmail, Outlook has a similar feature.)
Pause your incoming messages.
Got a major project you need to power through? Ditch the distraction of your messages through an application like Inbox Pause. The program halts all incoming emails by filtering them into a custom “pause” folder once you activate it. You don’t lose the messages ― you can access the folder at any time ― but it relieves you of the temptation to check an unread email if you see it come through as you’re working. You can also set up an auto reply so people reaching out know that you may not see their message right away. Then you can “unpause” it when you’re ready.
The program is available for both Gmail and Outlook through Boomerang, another email program that helps you manage your messages. You can download it here.
Set aside time to clear out unnecessary emails...
Let’s face it: You don’t really need all those flash sale emails. It’s better to go through them every so often in order to keep you inbox as manageable as possible. As Facebook user Wendy Harding points out, it’s something that can easily be done when you have a little downtime:
Once a month or so, I spend 30 minutes unsubscribing from junk mail. Keeps my inbox clean and it’s a mindless task while enjoying a cup of coffee.
...Or have a service do it for you.
If you’re overloaded with automated messages and newsletters, try enlisting a little digital help. Unroll.me is a service that shows you how many subscription emails you get, and makes it easy to unsubscribe from them en masse. The best part? The program is completely free.
Create a new email account for those must-have subscriptions.
Who said your email address needs to be a catchall? As Facebook user Chrissy Wittenmeier points out, a separate account can help if you’re tempted to sign up for store emails or offers but you don’t want them jamming your inbox:
I have an email just for junk. My personal email is just for friends, family, work etc.
Don’t check your inbox first thing in the morning.
This is a trick successful people swear by. While it seems like it would help to clear your messages ASAP in the morning, it’ll likely distract you from other work that needs to get done ― and you still probably won’t get to all of your unread items. Checking and responding to email is reactive, not proactive. Try handling other tasks first.
Schedule email breaks.
Email breaks can help curb stress, period. If you struggle with committing to taking time away from your inbox, try setting an alarm. But when it comes down to it, only you can be the one to hold yourself accountable.
Now go forth and conquer your inbox for good.