How to Control Your Email Inbox Before It Controls You

Have you ever felt like your email inbox was taking over your life? According to The Washington Post, you’re likely spending about 4 hours every day checking your work email – more than 1,000 hours a year. That’s a lot of time! But you don’t have to let your email take over your life. Instead, use these four simple steps to proactively get it back under your control.

1. Schedule Your Email Time

Procrastinating with email can be an easy way to (temporarily) put off less-appealing work. To avoid this temptation, consider designating just a few times a day to check your work email: when you first get to work, right before lunch and late in the afternoon. If someone needs to reach you immediately, encourage them to call, text or notify you through a work chat application.

If it’s impossible to stay away from your email that long, then do the opposite: Set up blocks of time when you won’t use your email so you can focus on projects. During those periods, use an auto-responder to let people know that you’re “away.”

2. Get Your Inbox to Zero

If you’re like many people, you may have let thousands of unread emails pile up in your inbox. Move these to a new folder and, from now on, make sure you have zero unread inbox messages at the end of each day. Next, you’ll need to tackle those older messages. Set aside an extra period of time every day to categorize or delete those messages until they’re gone.

3. Keep Your Subscriptions Lean

Next, take control of your email subscription list. Use an app like to list out all your subscriptions. Unsubscribe from any that you haven’t read in several months. If you use Gmail, you may have noticed that they have a bulk “unsubscribe” feature, too. There is a caveat here: Gmail just sends an “unsubscribe” email to the email sender, which doesn’t always work. Once you’ve unsubscribed from everything that’s not essential, set up rules to filter your email subscriptions into categories so they don’t show up in your inbox. If you’re using, you can get all your subscriptions in a single daily digest.

4. Convert Emails Into “To-Do Lists”

Now it’s time to get creative. If you have to keep going back to your inbox for your daily tasks, you won’t be able to resist the temptation to check your email constantly. Instead, convert your emails into tasks as soon as you read them. You can either do this by hand or use an app to automate the process. Trello, for example, is a collaboration app that lets you forward emails to work boards for the team. Todoist is a simple to-do app that lets you forward emails to particular projects, where they’re turned into tasks. Not ready to tackle an email yet? Boomerang lets you “snooze” emails. If you want to free yourself even further from your inbox, start setting up meetings and tasks in a project management system rather than by using back-and-forth emails. This will keep your inbox clean and make collaboration more efficient.

You can get your email inbox under control. Just start implementing these strategies today, one step at a time. If you dedicate a little time every day to monitoring your time, rerouting the info you need or cleaning out your inbox and subscription lists, you’ll have your emails under control before you know it.

Looking for more strategies to enhance your professional life? Navigate to iLearn@ADP and check out the professional development courses.

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