Email is a tool for communication, not a task list. When you receive a message, turn it into what it is and get it out of your inbox.
Staying on top of your inbox can feel a bit like shoveling the sidewalk while it’s still snowing. Messages keep flooding in, faster than you can process them. Each one requires a decision, chipping away at your willpower for the day. The more time you spend dealing with email, the less time you have for other work—for most of us, the real work—and the less energy you have to do it.
Fortunately, you can fight back. You can start taming your inbox before you ever check your mail. It’s a four-part approach called SNOW.
Sort incoming messages to other folders. Not every email you receive needs to land in your inbox. Use mail rules to sort every incoming messages you can away from your inbox. For my personal accounts, I use Sanebox (referral link) to pre-sort email newsletters, ads, and other mailing lists to other folders. At work, I use some simple server-side rules to send anything that isn’t addressed to me (or specific mailing lists) to another mailbox that I check less frequently. All that’s left in the inbox are messages that are more likely to need my attention now.
Necessary mailing lists only. The most effective way to reduce the email you receive is to ask for less email in the first place. If a mailing list isn’t bringing you value, you can triage every future email right now by unsubscribing from the list. Most will have a link at the bottom of the email where you can unsubscribe with just one click.
Other methods of communication exist. I’m on a leadership team at our church. Last month, we switched over to Slack. We’re still getting a feel for how to use it to its fullest potential, but one benefit is already clear to me: I’m spending less time checking email for that role. I can stay on top of things without needing to open Pandora’s Inbox. Less time checking, more time doing.
Not using Slack? Try sending a text message or picking up the phone. A real-time conversation can convey more information more quickly than a lengthy email exchange.
Work offline. Take your client offline while you process your inbox. This has two benefits: you can reply to messages without getting into a conversation when they reply back, and it stops new messages from coming in until you go back online. There’s nothing wrong with pausing the snowfall while you shovel.
Email is a useful tool, if you keep it under control. When your email gets out of hand, what’s important gets lost in the noise of everything else. Managing your email can be a full-time job, if you aren’t careful.