Managing the Email Flood

Every morning many of us wake up to an email flood that fills our inbox with new messages. It’s overwhelming and usually results in spending many hours each week reading, sorting, and replying. When we don’t take the time to deal with email, our inbox unread message count climbs into the thousands or tens of thousands.

A Better Way

This endless flood of email messages started me on a path to find a better way to handle email. My ultimate goal was to make managing my email inbox as easy as possible based on how I work. There are many different strategies for efficiently managing email, including Merlin Mann’s Inbox Zero and David Allen’s GTD method. Every strategy can work, but I knew the key was to find something that fit my thought process.

I created a list of the strategies and sub-strategies that I liked the best, then planned to make small changes gradually. This allowed me to master each change, make adjustments and improvements, and finally move to the next change.

Email Flood Inbox

Slow the Email Flood

The first and most important step I took was to reduce the number of messages that arrived in my inbox each day.

Many of the email messages I received were newsletters or sale announcements from stores and websites. Many of those messages I did not care to read, so I found and clicked the unsubscribe link at the bottom of the message (sometimes it was very tiny). Any message senders that didn’t comply with my unsubscribe request were unmercifully marked as spam when they continued to send messages.

I also decided that receiving all the email notifications from sites like Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and LinkedIn did not provide any value to me. I regularly checked and responded to notifications and updates using the websites or apps for those services. Often, I read the email notification after I already knew about the activity on those sites. This is partially because I don’t receive notifications of every email I receive1. Ultimately, the answer was to unsubscribe from most of those email notifications as well.

Temporary Message Folder

I also receive many messages from retail stores that contain coupons and special offers. I want to save these offers, but only want to use them if it’s for a product I want to buy at the time. The coupons and sales have an expiration date, so I only really need the messages for as long as the sale or special offer is valid. Afterwards, those messages can be deleted.

My solution was to both automatically and manually filter those messages into a special folder so that I can easily find them only when I want them. Every few months, I select and delete messages in that folder that are more than 30 days old. I want to automate this deletion process at some point in the future.

The end result is that all the coupons and special sale offers are out of my inbox and stored in a single location, waiting for use. In fact, for messages that are automatically filtered into that special folder, I don’t need to do any reading or sorting.

Taking The First Steps

Taking these first two steps reduced the volume of messages in my inbox significantly. Which, in turn, reduced the amount of time I spent processing my inbox. (Before I started, thanks to my email providers, I already had a reasonably good spam filter in place, so I didn’t have to deal with very many spam messages.)

If you want to take the first steps to better email you might want to try these two techniques for yourself:

  1. Unsubscribe from email lists that you don’t care about.
  2. Filter newsletters and store offers into a few folders to read when you’re ready to read or use them.

These small steps were very helpful for me , but also I know we all handle email differently. My hope is that you can find at least a few nuggets of wisdom that will help you slow down the flood of email to your inbox.

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