People send more than 269 billion emails every day and it can sometimes seem like every one of them has landed in our own inboxes.
The average professional spends around 28% of the working day reading and answering emails, according to McKinsey. That amounts to around 2.6 hours spent for a US worker, yet with so many emails received — around 120 a day — it seems like there’s never enough time to check them all.
So if your inbox is overloaded, what’s the best way to clear it without spending an entire day tearing your hair out?
Allocate set times to check emails
On average, professionals check their email 15 times per day. This might seem productive, but it isn’t — every time we turn away from our work to check our inbox, we’re distracted from what we’re doing.
One study by the University of California, Irvine found that after an employee switches their focus to another task, such as reading emails, it takes an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds to concentrate back on the original task.
With this in mind, it may be better to set allocated times to check your emails and to turn off any notifications that may distract you. Give yourself 30 minutes in the morning — perhaps a good time to drink your coffee — to go through emails, answering anything urgent, and filing away ones you might not have time to respond to straight away.
Set aside 10 minutes to clear junk
Despite having a “junk” folder, we still receive huge numbers of unwanted emails. Clearing these out is a relatively quick job that can leave more room to go through and focus on the useful ones.
Give yourself 10 minutes each morning to delete the spam or promotions emails — which will also feel pretty satisfying.
You would be surprised at the number of mailing lists you’re on. Unsubscribe from receiving emails if you don’t have time to read them, or don’t want them in your inbox.
To speed up the process, search the term “unsubscribe” and go through the results, unsubscribing from any emails you can do without.
Keep your work and personal inboxes separate
It’s easy to hand out your work email address to friends and family as it’s one you most likely check regularly, but keeping your work and personal emails separate can help you keep on top of things.
Set up an easy-to-remember personal email that you can use for anything other than work, such as travel or holiday bookings, pet pictures, and vouchers.
Many of us don’t make use of folders or labels in our inboxes, but they can help make sure we don’t forget to reply to important emails — particularly if we don’t have time to do so straight away.
Prioritise, sort, and group emails so you don’t lose track of what you’ve received and what you need to respond to. It’s useful to set up a “read later” folder, so you can quickly file away anything you want to answer. Give yourself a deadline of 48 hours to reply to anything in the “read later” folder.
You can also create subcategories for emails related to certain projects or to your finances — you just have to remember to move relevant mail from your inbox to these folders as soon as you receive them.
Keep in touch
It’s important not to let important emails sit in your inbox for days, but if you don’t have time to answer straight away, it can be useful to send a quick response to the sender saying you received the message and will be in touch shortly.
Set yourself a deadline and follow up. If you forget, Gmail now has a helpful tool which prompts you to respond after a few days.
Remove yourself from unnecessary email threads
61% of professionals said that receiving too many emails stopped them from getting work done, according to a survey of 2,000 office workers by the tech firm Workfront. Surprisingly, spam mail wasn’t the main culprit. Being copied into email chains not relevant to them was voted the biggest interruption at work.
It might seem passive aggressive, but a polite email response and removing yourself from an annoying chain can save yourself from the distraction. If you’re worried about making things awkward, mute the emails instead.