How much time do you spend managing emails each week? The number is probably in hours and not minutes.
If you’re anything like the heaviest email users, you may spend over eight hours per week on email.
And if anything, the amount of time you spend managing emails may even rise. In 2023, it’s predicted around 347 billion emails will be sent each day.
Reading and replying to emails takes up a significant part of the day!
Plus, there’s that annoying urge to check your emails every hour or so. Email management can be stressful and a drag on productivity.
The good news is there are plenty of hacks and techniques to help you better manage your inbox.
15 Hacks to Better Manage Your Inbox
Tired of an overflowing inbox weighing you down? Here are 15 quick fixes to declutter and streamline your inbox.
1. Label and categorize every email
Flag, label, and categorize every email to create an organized inbox. The clearer this process is, the easier it will be to find specific emails when you need them.
Every person will have their own preferences for labeling their inbox. It comes down to your work and personal needs, so it may take some trial and error to figure out what works best for you.
For starters, create parent categories and subcategories for different projects or clients.
Then for your work inbox, you could create categories for items like team collaboration, company announcements, or hiring.
It’s easy enough to set up labels and categories in Gmail and Microsoft Outlook. Here’s where to find it in your Gmail account.
Here’s how to do it in Outlook:
- Right-click a message and select Create rule.
- Select New folder and type a name for it.
Doing this means all your messages from this sender will go to this folder.
2. Create mini-inboxes
In addition to your primary inbox, you can create mini-inboxes within it and organize emails by client type, project, campaign, or topic. It’s an easy way to organize all those emails that accumulate over weeks and months.
Here’s how to do it in Gmail:
- Click “Settings” on the dropdown.
- Select “Inboxes” on the top navigation menu and add up to 5 custom inbox sections. Make sure you save changes.
- Once you are done, go back to your inbox, and you will be able to see a new tab on the extreme right with your custom inbox sections.
Outlook uses Rules to keep your inbox organized.
Here’s how to send all emails with a specific subject line keyword to a folder:
- Right-click a message.
- Select Rules.
- Choose Subject contains.
- Add the words you want.
- Select OK.
3. Block out time each day to check and reply to emails
Checking email every 20 minutes eats up valuable time in your workday. While emails can seem less time-consuming than phone calls, they can end up creating more stress.
The compulsive urge to check your emails all the time interrupts your deep work time –– close to 20% of people check their inboxes as soon as a new email arrives. Following the distraction, it’s then hard to refocus and concentrate on completing important tasks. In fact, one study found employees spend up to 23 minutes recovering from an email interruption.
To limit distractions, allocate a set time every day to handle your email.
This could be 30 minutes in the morning and 30 minutes at lunch –– whatever time works for your schedule. Avoid multitasking while you do this, and focus on getting through your email as efficiently as possible.
4. Create filters
Filters take care of your emails automatically so you don’t miss any important emails that require you to take action. Whether an email needs to go to the right folder or go straight to the trash, filters keep your inbox tidy.
In Gmail, it’s simple to set up filters:
- Go to Settings in the top right corner and select See all settings.
- Select Filters and Blocked Addresses on the top menu.
- Click Create a new filter.
- Add your criteria, including the sender, subject, keywords, and receiver. Then click Create filter and choose what you’d like to do with the emails.
This setting also lets you block email addresses if you want them to show up in your Spam instead.
It’s also simple to set up filters in Outlook.
Note that Outlook to sort an inbox or folder.
From any email folder, select Filter email from the Find group in the ribbon.
Once you choose a filter, Outlook scans your mailbox based on that filter.
You'll also see the shorthand for the filter in the search box. For instance, if you want to display all emails that have attachments, you can select Has Attachments or type hasattachments:yes in the Search box.
5. Delegate your inbox management
Letting someone else handle your email accounts allows you to win back hours of your time. You could delegate your inbox management to a coworker or a virtual assistant.
Here's how to outsource to a VA:
- Give VAs a document that clearly explains your email inbox setup. Include details on folders, labels, and sorting rules.
- Walk them through several examples of how you sorted ambiguous emails.
- Have your assistant sort fifty emails and review their sorting accuracy. If they are sorted correctly, offload your inbox management to them. However, if they made mistakes, provide additional coaching.
If you don't have an assistant or your in-house admin support is too busy working on other tasks, consider hiring a virtual assistant through a managed service.
A managed virtual assistant service like ours will give you an Engagement Manager who will help you create your inbox management system and train your assistant to use it.
Plus, they'll help you offload additional admin tasks such as calendar management, CRM organization, social media posting, and customer support.
If you Google “virtual assistants”, you’ll see thousands of results all at different price points. But it’s often best to hire a virtual assistant through a managed system like ours. When you work with managed virtual assistants, the recruitment, hiring, vetting, and training processes are taken care of.
Recommended reading: Hire a Virtual Email Assistant and Free Up Your Inbox
6. Turn off notifications
It can be hard, if not impossible, to ignore those alerts and notifications flashing across your desktop or mobile. Constant notifications are distracting.
Having your email open on a tab all day will mean alerts, notifications, and beeps disrupting your workflow and changing focus. When you’re not actively working through emails on your desktop, close off any tabs related to your inbox and quit any inbox desktop apps.
Switch off email notifications on your phone so you’re not tempted to check your screen for unread emails.
That way, when an email comes through, you won’t feel the need to jump into your inbox and click on it.
7. Archive email threads
Any emails that aren’t active but may still be useful in the future can go straight into the archive. Once a project’s been wrapped up or a client contract has expired, it’s a good idea to put those emails in the archive.
You don’t need to read them every day or week, so avoid cluttering up your inbox and leave them in the archive instead.
8. Set up shared inboxes
Group emails can get annoying. Messages keep arriving that aren’t relevant to everyone in the group. Sometimes, only three people are required to respond or act on the message, yet 15 others have to read it.
9. Implement inbox zero
Inbox zero might seem like an unrealistic goal, but it’s doable. All you need to do is declutter your inbox first. Then once you only have important read emails and threads in your inbox, commit to staying at zero.
Even if the number of emails you receive each day is in the hundreds, you can stay on inbox zero. The key is to stick to your rules and set aside time daily to review and respond to emails.
If you’re delegating email management to a virtual assistant or another team member, you may only need to set aside time to write and review important responses on a weekly basis.
If you needed any more convincing, our managed virtual assistant helped her member clear their inbox from 20,000 messages to under 1000 in under two weeks. The member’s inbox is so much more manageable and organized now. Plus she’s working towards inbox zero.
10. Use email management software
Hiver is a Gmail integration that adds functionality and automation to the platform. It lets you assign emails to specific people, set email statuses, include internal notes, and store email templates.
There are no free plans, but Hiver subscriptions start from $15/user/month.
SaneBox is an effective email management tool for people looking to streamline their personal inboxes. Using AI, the software learns your email habits and then automatically sorts emails when they land in your inbox.
High-priority emails appear in your main inbox, while lower-priority ones go to a separate folder. This feature is particularly useful if you receive a lot of email marketing messages.
SaneBox plans start from $7/month.
These tools are a quick way to give your inbox a helping hand and prevent it from becoming messy.
11. Follow rules
Once you implement guidelines such as staying on inbox zero or segmenting specific messages, stick to them.
Create a running document of all the rules you follow to keep your inbox organized.
Include the following:
- How to use separate folders for incoming emails
- Canned email responses for when you’re busy
- Protocol for urgent emails
- Follow-up responses
12. Flag emails that need urgent attention
Some emails will need more thought before you write a response. In those cases, an impulsive reply won’t work. For emails you don’t have time to reply to straight away, flag them, and come back to them in your next blocked email session.
Flagging the emails will remind you that you need to review emails that require some extra attention. In Gmail, you could star them so they appear in your starred folder. While in Outlook, you would flag them.
You can also mark important emails as unread so that you reply to your most time-pressing emails first.
You could also schedule a specific time during the week to handle these emails all at once.
13. Only handle it once
The Only Handle It Once (OHIO) method relies on making an efficient decision right away.
Returning to the same email over and over again wastes valuable time. So once you handle it, take the necessary action and move on to the next item on your agenda.
The handle it once principle sounds simple, but it can get hard to execute when it comes to email. Often we’ll open an email and avoid replying to it for several hours or days. Then it’s left lurking in our minds taking up space.
The OHIO method will stop you from feeling distracted by the thought of unanswered emails, which can lower your productivity.
14. Create email templates for default replies
If you receive lots of emails that require the same message, you could create a set of email templates for similar responses. Create several categories based on the types of replies you send, and then you can tailor them accordingly for different replies.
This will save you plenty of time from repeatedly writing the same message from scratch. You could even create canned responses where you state your hours of availability and when you’ll reply to emails.
This technique also works even if you hold a senior leadership position with lots of responsibility. Just add an auto-responder, including the hours you’ll respond to their email. If someone has an urgent inquiry, then they can call you on the number you provide.
15. Unsubscribe from newsletters you don’t read
Take care with what you sign up for. Promotional emails and newsletters can quickly clog up your inbox. It’s easy to subscribe to multiple newsletters or to tick yes to receive promotional emails accidentally. Before you know it, your inbox is overflowing with emails you’re never going to read.
Only subscribe to those emails that you’re actually interested in reading. If you’re always deleting or archiving certain emails, it’s time to unsubscribe from them.
To have a thorough detox of your emails, you could mass unsubscribe if it’s too overwhelming to do it manually. Unroll.me has a free site that lets you easily unsubscribe from emails quickly.
Here you can view a complete list of all your subscription emails and unsubscribe from any that you don’t want.
Stay On Inbox Zero with Prialto
There’s no one-size-fits-all when it comes to email management. Some people swear by inbox zero, while others may find having multiple labels and filters in place is enough.
Relying on a managed virtual assistant can help take the pressure off your day-to-day email management. Plus, once you get started with delegating your inbox management, you’ll see there are so many time-consuming tasks you can outsource to your VA.
Ready to win back eight hours or more each week? Learn more about how hiring a managed virtual assistant can save you time.
Inbox Management FAQs
1. What is the best way to manage emails?
It’s best to block out time weekly to manage your emails. That way, you can maintain a tidy inbox before it gets out of control.
Consider delegating some of your inbox management tasks to a managed virtual assistant.
2. How do I manage so many emails?
Many people find managing their full inbox overwhelming. Here are five quick tricks to manage your emails more efficiently:
- Block out time each day to check and respond to emails
- Set up inbox labels and filters
- Flag important emails
- Create email templates
- Delegate your inbox management
3. How is email management done?
Email management is the process of handling your work and personal email inboxes. When done correctly, email management helps you keep your emails under control and prevents you from feeling distracted.