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5 Tips to Take Control of Your Inbox

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Over the last year, I’ve been waging a war on complaints about email. As CEO of a fashion resale startup, I get a lot of email – but, to be honest, no one cares how much email I get. Just like no one cares about how much email you get.

Kevin Foy/Rex Features

The fact is, email anxiety is your own fault. You’re letting other people (forwards from Mom!), companies (flash sales!), service providers (credit card alerts!) jam up your inbox and your productivity.

The beauty of email is that you can take back control. Here’s how:

1) Create a “Salesy” filter. Every major email provider has a filtering tool. Create a folder called Salesy and filter everything with the word “unsubscribe” into that folder. I use the term “Salesy” because, by and large, everything that has an unsubscribe link probably means its coming from a company trying to do more business with you. The more advanced user can customize “unsubscribe” with a few other variables like “unsubscribe, tag1, tag 2” to create better filters with exceptions. This one trick will turn your inbox back over to you and the humans who are actually trying to email you.

Related: 8 Steps to Having Wildly Productive Mornings

2) Don't answer email the moment you wake up. Decide whether you’re a “first thing in the morning” email person or a “wait 'til later” type. If you’re reading this article, chances are you’re the former – and so am I – which means we know how even just one frustrating email can throw off the whole morning. But here’s the trick: do not respond to emails before you’ve taken a shower and had breakfast. Read them if you’d like (I do) but that fresh-out-of-bed time is the time for you to decide what you want to accomplish that day, not somebody else. Remember the old adage “your emergency is not my problem”? It’s the same with email. Immediately getting into an email conversation with a colleague is the fastest way to derail a productive morning. So casually look through your inbox, get a sense of the scope of what’s in front of you, and then decide your priorities for the day. 

3) Email the way you tweet or text. Email came of age in the PC era to replace snail mail. Back then, emails were more formal and crafted. But communication has since changed. We’re busy, trying to juggle more than ever and are generally distracted. To retain a captive audience, you have to get to your point – and fast. I typically keep things short and sweet and think about email like tweeting or texting. Shorter, punchier, direct messages grab attention and get more timely responses. Obviously there are exceptions, but next time you’re starting paragraph three of an email, check yourself. How would you Tweet it or text it?

Related: 5 Habits of Productivity App Super Users

4) Opt for a phone call instead. Yes, email is great for asynchronous communication across time zones and schedules, but think about how many emails are generated from within your own building. Spoiler: it’s a lot. I’m not saying give up on email altogether, but when you’re thinking about that three paragraph email, it may be time to pick up the phone or walk to someone’s desk. I also have a rule that if an email chain has more than five long back-and-forths, someone has to pump the brakes and pick up the phone. In a world where we’re increasingly stuck behind monitors and sitting at desks you might find that your colleagues really like hearing you say “Gotta sec to chat?”

5) Punt it. Often we receive emails that give us a feeling of dread. Whether it’s “I have absolutely no idea how to answer this question,” or simply “I just don’t have the time to deal with it,” – punt it. Nothing good will come from answering an email rushed or out of frustration. There are apps like Boomerang for gmail that let you punt emails, getting a message out of your inbox and setting a day and time you’d like to be reminded. Surprisingly, many emails you thought were must-reads turn out to get solved in the due course of other business.

Do you have any tips that help you manage your inbox? Please share in the comments section below.

Related: How to Trick Yourself into Becoming a Morning Person


James Reinhart

Written By

James Reinhart is the co-founder of, a fashion resale website that helps consumers consign online. James writes about juggling work, life and health from his startup office in San Francisco.