Career & Money

Overwhelmed With Emails? Here’s A Smart Stress-Free Solution

Email communications are a normal part of business, but sometimes, the threads, constant updates, and other notifications can get the best of us. I looked up one day and found that I had a whopping 4,000 emails in my inbox, and that was just one of them. It can seem overwhelming to purge when you think you might need something for later, want to be sure you're replying to the correct thread, or want to have the ammunition you need to politely read someone who keeps trying to check you about something you'd already done.

So how do you get organized, get from under the stress, and take back the time you've spent constantly responding to requests, deleting emails to get more storage, or managing alerts? Here are a few tips that have helped me:

1. Categorize your emails and set filters so that it's easier to manage your inbox.

I only keep emails that require immediate action or follow-ups in my "Starred" category (Google) and move others to other categories. I'll also flag emails so that I have a visual of those I need to address either within a day to 72 hours. I've often found myself trying to answer every single email as soon as one comes in, even if I'm in the middle of another task or even if it's not urgent. That practice left me always feeling frustrated. It was as if I didn't have enough time in the day to do any real work.

Now, I categorize emails based on the sender, nature of the task, or department with the tools I have at my fingertips, and Google and Outlook both offer these options. You can also adjust filter settings to send emails to certain categories when they have certain words in the subject line or come from particular senders. (Here's a great how-to on creating filters and how to choose what works best for you.)

I'm also now big on the "immediate delete and decline" method where, if the subject line seems spammy, includes weird misspelled words, or is addressed to the wrong company or person, is something I know for sure I'm just not interested in, I immediately trash it. (You can always go back in your Trash inbox and restore it, but after 15 years of being an editor, I've become a master at this. Nine times out of 10, it was trash or a total waste of my time even reading.)

2. Schedule time to purge.

Before you get any more overwhelmed, schedule a purge day that's on your calendar. Add alerts and reminders if you need to. I had those 4,000 emails because I hadn't purged since 2017, so take my word for it: Start purging tuh-day. Block out time weekly or monthly to look through all the categories and get rid of email threads that are no longer relevant, that detail a project that's done, or that indicate deadlines that have long passed. Also, get rid of those inter-office gossip threads or everyday conversations you might have had with your work bestie.

If the email thread is more than one year old, consider getting rid of it. (If this is a work inbox, get to know your company's policies on record-keeping, information privacy, and document filing before doing this. If personal, go ham.)

Set a timer for taking care of a few emails or one category at a time so that you don't further overwhelm yourself sitting at a computer for hours deleting or archiving things.

Put those photos or graphic files on a USP zip or hard drive or, if you trust it, a cloud. (And be sure to have folders so that won't become yet another disorganized abyss that has you searching through for hours to find a photo from 2009---or is that just me?)

3. Turn off unnecessary notifications and unsubscribe from newsletters you don't even read.

The notifications were really a problem. I'd set up notifications for almost every chat platform every one of my clients or companies I worked with used, and it became not only annoying but also took over my inbox. Think to yourself, "Do I really need to get email notifications for Slack updates, or should I just download the app? Do I need to be notified every time I spend $1 on a candy bar, or should I just download my banking app or check my statement bi-weekly?"

Turn off the notifications settings for updates on any and everything that's not really urgent or for things that you could find other ways to stay on top of.

And if you're really not into those newsletters from every online store you shop at or your favorite R&B star, they need to go, too. Unsubscribe or simply bookmark important stories from their websites, follow their social handles, or invest in an RSS reader.

4. Set up a time limit for keeping old emails.

Google has an option (and so do others) where you can set a 30-day deletion limit on emails, and this is perfect for someone like me who hoards digital files. You can set it for emails that are a minimum of 30 days old, and they'll immediately go to your Trash inbox after the time you set.

5. Email templates are your saving grace, so create and use them.

Everyone's talking about AI writing research papers, responding to comments, and creating Instagram captions. Well sis, you are the AI in this process. Pre-written messages that you can simply send with the click of a button are the move.

If it's a process that will always require the same answer, something that uses the same communication steps, or it's a message that can apply to multiple things or for multiple situations, create a template. Google, Outlook, and many other information management platforms offer this option. You simply create one message that can be used consistently and save the template for when you need it.

A good time to use these is in response to frequently asked questions, when onboarding or welcoming new team members, sending emails regarding common practices or policies, or for sales pitches.

You can even create templates that are simple greetings, opening intros for when you're working with a new department or business partner, or for holiday greetings. Customize the names or applicable situations for each template before sending the emails out, and it'll save you a lot of time and brain energy. (And don't respond to every meeting request with just an email, by the way. Add your Calendly or other scheduling platform link.)

I often use templates for sending out invoices, hiring new writers, requesting to set up meetings, sending deadline reminders, or addressing process issues with folks who can't seem to follow directions. (Hey, why stress myself out? I simply send a pre-written step-by-step and call it a day.)

Taking a few steps today to organize your inbox and automate how you use it can save a lot of stress and wasted time cleaning up later.

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Featured image by andreswd/Getty Images




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