By The Muse Editor
Email: We love it, we hate it, we love to hate it. But since it’s not going anywhere anytime soon, we’re here to help you make the best of it.
From tips for powering through your overflowing inbox to strategies to help you get less of it in the first place to smart ways to make sure the emails you do send make a big impact, we’ve got everything you need to turn your inbox into a communication powerhouse.
- The easiest way to stop getting so many emails in the first place is to unsubscribe to those dozens of newsletters you sort-of-kind-of-intended to read—but really never do. Unroll.me is the absolute easiest way to identify those suckers in your inbox—and mass unsubscribe.
- If you’re getting lots of unwanted mail from individuals, you can also try BoxBe. BoxBe uses what it calls a personalized “Guest List” to ensure that you get email from people who matter to you, while screening messages from anyone else into a separate “Waiting List.” Anyone who isn’t on your Guest List will receive a request to verify their message before it is delivered to your inbox.
- Try using an email auto-responder—and not only when you’re out of the office. Your auto-response doesn’t have to be long or detailed, but a quick “Hi, I’ve received your email and will get back to you when I can!” message may keep the eager beavers from sending follow-up emails before you’ve had a chance to respond. Here’s how to set it up.
- Resist the urge to respond to every email right way. As Alexandra Franzen explains, “a lot of ‘urgent’ emails tend to resolve themselves without your assistance. By choosing not to respond instantaneously, you’re training people to be more self-reliant—while creating sane, realistic expectations about how quickly you’ll be able to reply.”
- Prevent follow-up emails by ending your messages with clear instructions instead of questions. Instead of saying, “Should we reconnect next week?” try, “I’ll give you a call Tuesday morning to reconnect.” If that doesn’t work, your recipient will let you know—but otherwise, you’ve prevented an unnecessary back-and-forth.
- Want to keep your emails both short and productive? Commit to making every message five sentences long—or less. There’s even a site that’s built to help: five.sentenc.es! As it explains, “Treat all email responses like SMS text messages, using a set number of letters per response. Since it’s too hard to count letters, we count sentences instead.” Need some advice on keeping things brief, but still polite? Elliott Bell has some great tips.
- If you find yourself emailing the same messages over and over again, save templates in your drafts folder (here are 27 to start with) or take advantage of Gmail’s “Canned Responses” lab, which lets you save any number of responses and easily insert them into your emails. (See how to set it up, courtesy of Gadgetwise.)
- Send a lot of emails from your phone? Try auto text, a tool that lets you type a customized abbreviation that then expands into a complete text blurb. For example, typing “rl8” can expand to “I’m running late,” which is handy when you’re running to a meeting. (Here’s how to set it up.)
- Unless your job requires you to be immediately responsive to emails, set just a few times each day that you’ll check your inbox. This time can be different every day, it just has to be intentional (for example, today I’ll set aside from 9-10 AM to go through my inbox, then I’ll look at it again from 4-5).
- Add two tags (or filters in Gmail) to your inbox: “quick reply” and “requires focused time.” When you know you have a solid block of uninterrupted time, start by opening your focused time folder, and decide which ones you most need to tackle. And next time you have a couple minutes to spare while waiting for the bus or in line for coffee, open your “quick reply” folder instead of checking Instagram.
- Set up your email so that once you’ve dealt with one email and filed it away or deleted it, you’re taken straight to the next one in your inbox instead of back to the list of emails. (For Gmail, you can do this via the Auto-Advance option in Gmail Labs.) This reduces any time you’d spend deciding which message to pay attention to next!
- Need to get through a bunch of email in a short period of time? Try the Email Game, which gives you five minutes to get through as many emails as possible and rewards you with points. It also focuses on tackling 10-20 emails at a time, making your inbox battle feel more bite-sized.
- Don’t keep all of your emails in your inbox—either delete, file, or archive them once they’ve been dealt with. A 2011 study out of Princeton’s Neuroscience Institute determined that “when your environment is cluttered, the chaos restricts your ability to focus.” This is true of your virtual environment, too; the more emails you can see—even ones that don’t matter anymore—the more time your brain will spend subconsciously thinking about them.
- For people who don’t love to-do lists, an easy solution (or so they think) is to use their inbox as one. But for true tasks, such as “Create proposal for new client” or “Pay office rent,” it’s time to find a to-do list system that works for you. Using your inbox as a to-do list puts your time in other people’s hands—with each new email comes a new to-do, whether you like it or not. But having to consciously add a task to your to-do list is a chance to determine if you should really be doing that right now, instead of other work.
- You can use Gmail to have some emails skip your inbox automatically. For example, if you auto-pay your cable bill, you can archive it automatically and add the label “Financial.” You don’t ever have to see it, but if you need it, you know where to find it. Speaking of finding things…
- Before you send any email, read it for searchability. What would you search to find this email later on? Are those words in the email? You may want to change “Notes from meeting with Jack” to “Notes from August meeting with Jack Smith from Amazon.”
- There are actually tons of search commands that make finding an old email much, much easier. Here’s a primer on how to find any email by subject, topic, sender, and more.
- Ever wish you could put sticky notes all over your inbox? The aptly named Notes For Gmail lets you affix notes and tags to any email message—pin notes to an email thread, at the top of your sent-emails view, or really anywhere else in your inbox.
- Gmail add-on Rapportive is a networker’s dream: The plugin displays your contacts’ social networking information right inside your inbox, so you can connect with them on LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter without even leaving Gmail. You can also see a punch list of recent emails from them and record private notes to attach to their addresses in your account.
- Like Gmail on steroids, Gmelius is a browser extension for Chrome, Firefox, and Opera that majorly boosts your Gmail experience with everything from a cleaned-up interface (no more ads!) to the ability to block email trackers to protect your privacy. Another favorite feature is the automatic “Unsubscribe” button that replaces Gmail’s “Spam” button whenever Gmelius detects a mailing list.
- You know those emails that you know you won’t get to until later, but you’re afraid you’ll forget? The plugin Boomerang, currently available for Gmail and Outlook, is perfect for dealing with them. You can schedule an email to disappear and come back later—when you’re ready to deal with it—leaving your inbox clearer until then. Boomerang also allows you to schedule an email to be sent at a later time and set up recurring emails.
- Check out Gmail Labs—which lets you try out add-on Gmail features like “undo send” and viewing your calendar right in your inbox. Go into your Gmail settings, then click on “Labs” to get started.
- Find yourself signing or sending a lot of documents and contracts? Hellosign for Gmail lets you sign documents and fill out forms without leaving your inbox—a true lifesaver for those of us who hate scanners, printers, and fax machines.
- Make the first 50 characters of every message as concise and actionable as possible, says Fast Company. An enticing opener makes it much more likely that your recipients will keep reading.
- Long blocks of text look daunting to read, so think about how to make your text more readable. Utilize bullets, lists, bolding, and short, easily skimmable paragraphs. Having trouble cutting it down? It could be a sign that you’re trying to cover too much.
- If you’re getting across more than one point or posing more than one question in your email, make sure those items stand out from the rest of the narrative by putting them in bold, highlighting them, or arranging them in a bulleted list. The contrast naturally draws the recipient’s eye to the meat of the message (the piece that you can’t afford them to miss!).
- Make any questions you ask as specific as possible. “What do you think about the proposal?” is not a good question. “Can we go ahead with the vendor’s proposal of $20,000 by Friday?” is better.
- Hoping to catch your boss or someone important on a less busy day but don’t know his or her schedule? Avoid emailing on Tuesday and Thursday. Those are the highest volume days for people’s inboxes, and you don’t want your important message to get lost in a sea of newsletters, offers, and other correspondence.
- Make your subject line count—something that gives the recipient a clear idea of what’ll be inside the email. (Bonus: This will also help you search for the message easily in your inbox should your recipient call to discuss rather than writing back via email.)
- Researchers from Carnegie Mellon found that the most effective emails have subject lines that appeal to one of two things: curiosity (great if you’re in marketing) or utility (probably best for the rest of us). Watch this one-minute video to learn more.
- Want to really make sure your messages get read? Chrome extension MailTrack allows you to see if and when people have read your emails. And if you notice it’s sitting there unread? Check out these tips for following up the right way.
This piece was originally published by The Muse.