5 Ways to Think Happy Thoughts About Your Email Inbox

actually recall the day that we got email at work for the very first time. I know – sounds archaic. Like “Kids, I remember the day we got indoor plumbing and had to walk to school uphill both ways…in the snow!” 

To my kids, haven’t we always had email, smartphones, and internet?

Photo courtesy of Stuart Miles | FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Photo courtesy of Stuart Miles | FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Reader’s digest had an article in their April edition under News From the World of Medicine. It said,

Here’s a simple way to feel less stressed: sign out of e-mail. For two weeks, Canadian researchers assigned more than 120 adults to either check their inboxes only three times a day or to check as often as possible (about the same number of times they normally would). After the first week, participants switched scenarios. For most people, checking e-mail less frequently significantly lowered overall daily stress levels.

I need researchers to tell me this? Seems like this would just be intuitive.

If you are like me, sometimes I feel like I spend so much time managing my emails from others, that one day my tombstone will read something like…

Here lies Antone, gone on his way,

But he checked his email every day.


Like it or not, email, or some form of it, is hear to stay. And if here to stay, then those of us who use it consistently need to know how to manage it, or it will manage us.

And it seems like managing our email is no longer about managing just one account. I have numerous accounts to which I stay connected: my work account, my personal account, my prior employer account for any residual communication, my account used solely for blogs I subscribe to, as well as an account for the school for which I do online teaching.

Your first step is to get all of your accounts into one viewing platform. For me, I use a Mac and have all of my accounts coming into my Mac email viewer. Either forward other accounts to a main account, or set up rules to forward existing accounts into folders so that you can differentiate various accounts.

Screen Shot 2015-07-20 at 9.46.36 AM

The point is, it is more effective to have one platform where you can see all of your email accounts than having to view multiple other platforms to read your emails.

What have I missed?

I loathe the feeling as if something important is lurking somewhere in my email and I somehow overlooked it in a sea of other emails. Did I reply? Where is that critical piece of information? Did I delete it? And then I spend way too long trying to look for the prodigal email.

Have you ever felt that sense of panic of frustration?

If this is the scenario in which you find yourself, take heart.

I want to offer some suggestions that are effectively working for me. Though not original to me, they are simple and successful. And it will allow you to use email as an effective tool instead of something that owns you.

My first introduction to what email could be was through Total Workday Control Using Microsoft Outlook by Michael Linenberger. I know, it sounds like a geeky tech book. Well let me assure you…it is! I stumbled across it and it was so valuable in just helping me understand why I get inundated with email and what I can do about it.

So allow me to offer you 5 guidelines that will revolutionize your email management.

Shift your paradigm

Typically we look at our email inbox as this unlimited bucket where everything we receive passes into – and sits – until we decide to do something with it. Instead of thinking of your inbox as a bucket, think of it more as an elevator. 

When you get into an elevator, you never view it as the destination. The elevator is just a brief pause to get you to your destination. So too with email – it should be more elevator-esque. Changing this mindset is critical; otherwise the steps below will never be effective for you.

If you view your email inbox as an elevator, then there are 4 “floors” that the email can go to:

Get rid of it

If the email is an fyi or just junk mail, get rid of it! Do not let it sit around. And if the email is some ad whose listing you got onto by who knows what method, take a brief moment and unsubscribe from the bottom of the email. Got it? Get rid of what is no longer useful to you.

Archive it

But what if it is useful? Again, do not let it sit there! Remember, elevator, not bucket.

If you should not delete the email because of important information that it contains, then do not let it sit there. Move it to a folder. Below is an arrangement for how I have set up some of my folders. It takes 15 seconds to create a folder and move the selected email. And what is great is that I know I have it for future referencing if necessary.

Screen Shot 2015-07-20 at 9.47.32 AM

Task it

But what if the email involves something that I need to do? Remember once again, elevator, not bucket.

Make it into a task for you to do.

I happen to use Wunderlist. And anything in email that comes to me that is in the form of a “to do” gets moved to a list in Wunderlist. If you have never used Wunderlist, check out my post here.

If needed, I copy the contents of the email and paste them into the created task and then assign a date for which I want to see the task either today or at some future date. Meaning, it will not show up on my task list until I want it to.

Move it on

And finally, if none of the three options above apply, I forward the email to who should deal with it.

There. Done. And so on any given day, though I may get a large number of emails, by the end of the day I usually have between 5-10 emails in my inbox because everything else has been properly dealt with.

Get your day started

For me, I like to check my email first thing when I get to work. I know there are others who would disagree with this, and I respect their opinion, but I like looking through my emails and applying the above processes to start things off because it helps me frame my day and know about any big-ticket items that are out there. 

In other words, I do not get surprised and I can intentionally structure my day.

One other thing: turn off your email notifications. Bells, whistles, barking dogs, chimes-in-the-wind, banners across the top…turn them all off. Otherwise, getting emails becomes like a Pavlov’s dog syndrome and I feel this incredible urge to be pulled away from what is at hand because I heard an “email arriving” sound. It just makes for less distractions and allows you to be more focused on your work.

I can say firsthand that I have used this process, or some form of it, for 5+ years and it is a game changer. I feel as if I am managing instead of being managed.

I hope this helps you in your own productivity. Try it for a week and see what you think.

If you liked this post, please click on the “Like” button below and leave a comment.

And if you have someone who would benefit from this post today, please share it. That would be so appreciated!



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