Ask anyone what change they wish they could make to their digital life, and they are likely to respond with the following gripe: “I get way too much email—I’d love to receive less of it.”
As one of the hallmarks of the connected era, while allowing us to communicate seamlessly and instantaneously, email has also simultaneously become one of the shackles of modern communication. In fact, in a statistic from 2015, it’s estimated that in the U.S., employees spend more than six hours per day checking and answering their email. This massive time investment means we’re all constantly trying to manage email and to figure out how to reply faster and receive less of it. The broader shift to messaging platforms—including WhatsApp Messenger and Snapchat—certainly gives us a small amount of reprieve, but it hasn’t undone the tyranny of email altogether.
If you delve into the inbox of someone who gets far too much email you usually see that there are a fair few bad email habits present. For example, they might never unsubscribe from corporate mailings they’re not interested in, and perhaps they get news and social media alerts hourly or in real time. These habits can be cleaned up quickly and in a single afternoon, but what can be done about more persistent email problems?
There are numerous hacks that purport to help you get a handle on your email once and for all. These range from plug-ins, add-ons, apps, and overarching methodologies that have been reported to make email more manageable. Here is a look at some of the leading options, but remember, they all require a certain amount of self discipline
Try Gmail’s Canned Response feature: This feature is designed to reply to emails that you get often, which require the same or a very similar response. All you have to do is create a template and then save it in the “Labs” section of your settings, where you’ll see an option for canned responses. However, as Mashable helpfully reminds us, “For fields you’ll change, like a person’s name, date, or time, it might be helpful to put them in brackets so you remember to fill them in. Nothing’s more embarrassing than accidentally sending an email template that starts with “Hi name”.
Adopt an Inbox Zero mindset: Inbox Zero is a methodology created by Merlin Mann, who insists that the “zero” doesn’t refer to the number of emails waiting for your responses, but rather “the amount of time an employee’s brain is in his inbox.” The method is hinged on adopting a few key habits including not leaving your email client open all the time, processing your emails periodically rather than as they arrive, deleting and archiving as many messages as possible when you enter your inbox, and moving emails that require a time-intensive response to a designated folder (and then setting time aside to actually answer them). While this method will not necessarily reduce the time you spend responding, it will systematize your approach to email, which can reduce the amount of space it takes up in your brain.
Use Unroll.Me: If you are one of the aforementioned who never takes the time to unsubscribe from newsletters, promotional mailings, or spam mailing lists that you don’t want, the best option can often just be to start over with a clean slate. A service such as Unroll.Me will do that for you by wiping your inbox of all mass emails, and will also allow you to pick and choose what you’d like to keep and what you can chuck. Just keep in mind that once you wipe the slate clean, you have to be diligent about not letting subscriptions begin accruing again.
Implement FollowUpThen: If your main email problem is forgetting to reply to emails when a response is required, then setting up reminders once you receive an email is key. A service like FollowUpThen allows you to simply set yourself a reminder on the day and time a given email requires a response. This will prevent important messages from becoming forgettable ones by leaving them to languish in the bottom of your inbox.
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